UPDATE: 6/14/23 5:00 PM
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) extended and expanded its air quality alert, now including most of Minnesota and carrying into Friday for most of the state.
The initial alert was for Northern Minnesota and Southeastern Minnesota, and was expected to expire at 6 am Thursday morning.
The updated alert now includes nearly all of Minnesota, except for Cook and Lake Counties, and is set to expire at 6:00 am Friday morning for much of the state. Air quality is still expected to improve in Northeastern Minnesota through the day on Thursday and into Friday, thanks to a lake breeze working to clear out some smoke. This has places like Duluth and the North Shore expected to still see the local air quality alert expire on Thursday, rather than the Friday date mentioned for much of the state.
Another addition to this update is the addition of a new red alert category to the map.
The initial alert was only for the orange AQI category, which is considered "unhealthy for sensitive groups". This addition of the red, or "unhealthy" category spans through much of Central and North Central Minnesota. The red category is considered unhealthy for all people, with everyone recommended to avoid outdoor activities or extended time outdoors. You can see the differences in the various categories below.
You can see the original alert information in the original post below.
ORIGINAL POST: 6/14/23 7:30 AM
People across Northern Minnesota and Wisconsin woke up to a thick, smoky haze on Wednesday morning caused once again by wildfires burning in Canada. This continues a trend that is expected to carry through much of the rest of the year, with times of thick smoke blowing into our region from those wildfires.
That alert covers the northern half of Minnesota, including areas like Alexandria, Brainerd, Duluth, the Iron Range, and all points north, as well as a swath of counties through southeastern Minnesota. The alert for the Twin Cities and the southeastern part of the state includes ozone air quality issues.
The alert went into effect at 6 pm on Tuesday (June 13) and runs through 6 am on Thursday (June 15).
The MPCA says air quality levels are expected to be in the orange air quality index (AQI) category, a level they say is considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, for northern and southeast Minnesota. The recommendation in the alerted areas is that sensitive groups should avoid prolonged time outdoors.
While smoke is expected to linger through the day on Thursday, the MPCA says it will be less concentrated, falling below the threshold for the current alert that is set to expire on Thursday morning.
While those in sensitive groups (people with respiratory or cardiovascular issues, for example) are at greatest risk, smoke and other air pollution can negatively impact even healthy individuals.
Prolonged exposure can lead to short-term effects like lung and eye irritation, with the potential for longer-term effects. Wildfire smoke can be pretty unhealthy, with exposure to higher levels above an Air Quality Index (AQI) of 150 or higher for a week being the equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes. AQI levels measured in Duluth and on the Iron Range on Wednesday morning were around 180.
You can read more on how to protect yourself from wildfire smoke here.