Thick smoke from Canadian wildfires on Thursday blanketed most of Minnesota, reducing visibility and causing a dangerous dip in air quality.
The air quality index in the Twin Cities remained in the unhealthy range Thursday evening, and nearly the entire state is under an air quality alert until 3 p.m. Friday, according to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.
North and west of the metro, air quality readings were even worse, with some areas still seeing readings in the very unhealthy range as of 7 p.m.
UPDATE: @NOAA’s #GOES16 is tracking thick #smoke from Canadian #wildfires pouring southward into the U.S. and spreading across Minnesota, Wisconsin, the Dakotas, and Iowa this afternoon. #AirQuality Alerts are in effect for much of the region. #MNwx #WIwx #NDwx #SDwx #IAwx pic.twitter.com/Iek6XKS5jo
— NOAA Satellites – Public Affairs (@NOAASatellitePA) July 29, 2021
Earlier in the day, air quality sensors in St. Cloud logged the highest level of airborne particulates ever recorded in the state at 422 micrograms per cubic meter, said Nick Witcraft, an MPCA research scientist and meteorologist.
This broke the earlier record of 401 micrograms, which was set just hours before in Brainerd, Witcraft said. Particulate levels in the Twin Cities reached 258 micrograms.
The smoke in St. Cloud reduced visibility at its airport to less than a mile just before 7 a.m., according to the National Weather Service.
The heavy smoke has reached St Cloud this morning. The visibility at St Cloud Airport is only 3/4 mile! pic.twitter.com/MiUbMb6BaS
— NWS Twin Cities (@NWSTwinCities) July 29, 2021
Although air quality levels are expected to fall below alert levels on Friday as the haze drifts west, but the relief will be short-lived, the MPCA said.
Another southbound cold front is expected to carry another wave of wildfire smoke down from Canada on Saturday, likely causing the air quality index to return to the unhealthy range.
Wildfires have been raging across Canada this summer, fed by drought conditions that continue to affect much of North America, including Minnesota.
Figures updated Thursday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show that nearly 75 percent of Minnesota is experiencing at least severe drought conditions, with 22 percent in extreme drought. That’s a slight worsening since last week’s update.
Drought conditions in the state are affecting crop yields and water levels in the state, and causing increased fire danger.