MINOT, N.D. -- The source of a smoky haze that was evident in northern North Dakota on Tuesday, May 28, and Wednesday, May 29, is extensive wildfires burning in Canada, particularly Alberta where firefighters from throughout northwest Canada have been called in to help bring the blazes under control.
Earlier this week Environmental Canada warned of "smoky skies and some deterioration in the air quality at the surface too" in British Columbia and Alberta. In affected areas of the United States, primarily the northern half of North Dakota, the National Weather Service advised that people sensitive to smoky conditions should "consider limiting outdoor activities."
The level of particulate matter carried by the smoke is monitored closely by the Air Quality Division of the North Dakota Department of Health. Remote sensing stations, such as those located near Williston, the Lostwood National Wildlife Refuge and Ryder in southern Ward County, automatically trigger alerts to the DOH if air quality standards are exceeded. As of late Wednesday morning air quality readings in the smoke affected areas remained well within the normal range.
"We're keeping an eye on it and will act accordingly," said Ryan Mills, NDDOH. "We'll issue a press release if we see some concerns."
The greatest initial concern would be to those individuals who are sensitive to smoky conditions, which can cause breathing difficulties and irritation to eyes. According to Mills, measured particulate matter, or PM, at the Ryder gauge Wednesday was very close to the average PM of 22. If PM readings reach 100 or more the DOH would issue an advisory.
"2015 was a really bad year for smoke from fires," said Mills. "Last summer there was a few days but it wasn't like we'd seen in the past."
While the smoky haze was very noticeable in Minot on Tuesday and Wednesday, based on expected weather patterns, it is expected to diminish as it begins to move out of the area as early as today.
"Probably the worst day in Minot was Tuesday. Today it should be more in Minnesota," said Simosko. "There's a cold front coming down Friday and a wind shift Friday morning. You'll probably still see some smoke high up. The wind has been kind of westerly across British Columbia and Alberta and turns to the northwest in North Dakota."
The presence of smoke and haze may not be the last this summer. Conditions in British Columbia and Alberta have been much drier than normal and a hotter than usual summer is expected. Canadian officials warn that preliminary long-range weather outlooks for the coming months suggest worsening fire conditions are probable.