Smoke from hundreds of North American wildfires is taking a toll on U.S. air quality

There are hundreds of active wildfires burning in Canada and Alaska this week in what has been a horrible fire season so far. Unfortunately, the smoke from all of these fires has to go somewhere, and the jet stream has been ushering it straight into the U.S. for days.

There are over 350 wildfires burning in Canada this week, 45 of which have just been ignited in the past 24 hours. Most of the fires stretch from northern British Columbia and Saskatchewan. Over 8,000 square miles of land in Canada has burned so far this year, as a result of more than 4,600 wildfires.

“These [wildfire] figures are likely to continue to grow, likely breaking some records in particular provinces,” writes Mashable’s Andrew Freedman, “though all-time national records are more difficult to break.”

To the northwest, 300 wildfires are burning in Alaska, most of which are “very large,” covering more than 2,500 acres. That brings the total number of fires to nearly 700 north of the 49th parallel, and all of that smoke has been riding south on the jet stream for the past couple of weeks, reaching as far south as Florida and lingering over the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast for days.

The tiny smoke particulates have pushed air quality into unhealthy ranges in Colorado and the Upper Midwest. An action day was issued for the urban corridor of the Front Range region on Tuesday afternoon, in effect until at least Wednesday afternoon. So far on Wednesday, Fort Collins has been suffering through air quality levels deemed “unhealthy for everyone,” with an index over 150. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment suggests everyone in the Front Range, even people without pollution-sensitive health issues, refrain from prolonged or heavy exertion.

Minnesota endured similarly hazardous levels on Monday as smoke from the fires pushed air pollution at the ground into the danger zone. Usually most of the smoke stays in the upper atmosphere as it rides the jet stream, but a cold front caused the smokey air to sink to the surface earlier this week. The Star Tribune reports:

On an air-quality scale that ranges from 0 to 200, some parts of Minnesota, including the Twin Cities, pushed into the mid-170s and 180s, said Steve Mikkelson, a spokesman for the MPCA.

“That’s unusually high,” Mikkelson said, pointing out that he hasn’t seen readings this high for more than a decade. “We’ve had alerts in the ‘unhealthy for everyone’ range of the scale before, but not this high.”

“The same storm that dumped 2 to 7 inches of rain in central and southeaster Minnesota also helped to pull some of the smoke down to the surface,” said meteorologist Paul Douglas. “Usually this plume of smoke is a few miles above the ground. It was a little disconcerting to see visibility down to a half mile to a mile because of smoke. It looked like LA on a bad day.”

The Upper Midwest and Colorado will get a break starting Friday when the jet stream shifts to the Northeast. This will likely bring hazy, brown air to the Northeast states into the weekend. The forecast from the National Weather Service shows increased smoke concentration shifting east through Thursday night.

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via Smoke from hundreds of North American wildfires is taking a toll on U.S. air quality – The Washington Post.

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