The smoky sky that seems to be blanketing southeastern Minnesota is going to hang around until the fires in Canada abate and that could take a while.
The smoky air will be a consistent feature in the sky for the next few months, according to the National Weather Service in Chanhassen, Minn.
Meteorologist Jacob Beitlich said western and central Canada have experienced dry conditions that have led to an active fire season. The wildfires in the region are 150 percent above normal.
"We’re able to see the smoke plumes and track them using satellites,” he said. “I can see the smoke across central and western Canada.”
Beitlich said the weather service's extended forecast models indicate the dry and warm pattern will continue through the rest of the summer and perhaps into early fall. Unless rain falls there, the wildfires will rage on and the air in Southeast Minnesota – indeed, across the entire Upper Midwest – will continue to be smoky.
"We’re in a northwest flow pattern,” Beitlich said. “So, when that smoke gets up in the atmosphere, it takes that smoke right over the Upper Midwest. And, if we have high pressure, the air just sits there and it builds up.”
"Hopefully, we’ll get a pattern shift or maybe some moisture up there,” Beitlich said. However, some meterologists are saying that the wildfires will continue until snow extinguishes them.
Why is the air quality so bad?
Wildfire smoke contains fine particles that are really small -- less than 2.5 micrometers across. By comparison, a human hair is about 60 micrometers in diameter. Fine particles can lodge in the tissue deep in your lungs, and can make their way into the bloodstream. They can cause shortness of breath, coughing, chest pain and fatigue.
How long is it supposed to last?
Southerly winds are expected to arrive on Tuesday and start moving the smoke out of Minnesota.
Who’s at highest risk from the bad air?
Those at highest risk include people with chronic lung diseases or cardiovascular conditions, including asthma, COPD, heart disease and high blood pressure. Children and older adults are also more sensitive to unhealthy air quality, as are people doing extended physical activity outdoors.
Pregnant women should also be cautious, said Dr. Zulfiqar Ali, a pulmonologist with Sanford Health in Fargo.
What precautions should people with underlying heart and lung conditions take to stay safe?
Those at the highest risk, including people with chronic lung diseases or cardiovascular conditions, and children with chronic respiratory issues like asthma, should avoid going outdoors as much as possible.
Those people are advised keep their rescue inhalers with them.
The MPCA recommends that people with asthma should review and follow the guidance in their written asthma action plan. If you don’t have a plan, make an appointment with your health-care provider.
Should I go for a walk or run outdoors?
Generally speaking, it’s not going to be hazardous for healthy people to exercise outdoors for an hour. But, prolonged activity outdoors for multiple days could cause some respiratory symptoms.
The MPCA offers this advice: Limit, change or postpone your physical activity level as needed. If you experience respiratory symptoms like shortness of breath or coughing or wheezing, then cut back or avoid doing those activities outdoors.
The MPCA says in areas with very unhealthy air, sensitive people should avoid any outdoor activity, and everyone else should avoid prolonged exertion.
In areas where the air is in the red, or unhealthy category, sensitive individuals should avoid prolonged exertion, and everyone else should limit it.
Should I wear a mask?
Masks can be helpful for people most at risk from the unhealthy air — people with lung diseases and cardiovascular conditions. But properly fitted N95 masks should be used. Surgical masks only filter out a small percentage of fine particles.
Does air conditioning help?
Yes. The MPCA advises using indoor air filtration or air conditioning with the fresh-air intake closed/set on recirculate to reduce indoor air pollution.
If you have to open your windows, try to do it in the morning and at night. Avoid the middle of the afternoon when air quality is going to be at its worst.