Wildfires are not new, but in recent years they’re burning bigger and hotter across the western U.S. and central and western Canada. Climate change plays a part, but so do past practices of fire suppression and populations expanding into wildfire regions. “Mega fires,” like those devastating California in recent years, are expected to continue well into the future.
In the past, summer Air Quality Index (AQI) forecasting in Minnesota revolved around ozone, but recent trends in large wildfires have shifted that focus. Though Minnesota’s air quality is generally good, we do get days when air quality is poor enough to affect people’s health. Over the past few years, higher AQIs in the summer can increasingly be attributed to wildfire smoke.
In order to adapt to the increased impacts from wildfire smoke, the MPCA took steps in 2017 to expand and improve the air quality forecast program, increasing forecast locations from two (Twin Cities and Rochester) to eighteen locations across the state. Air quality alerts have improved as the MPCA collaborated with the National Weather Service, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minnesota Department of Transportation to communicate alerts more effectively. The MPCA also expanded its use of social media and fostered relationships with television, radio, and print media to help deliver alerts to more Minnesotans.
With no end in sight to our smokier summers, you’ll want to stay “air aware” by visiting MPCA’s AQI webpage and downloading the new and improved Minnesota Air mobile app for Apple, Android or Windows, or by signing up for email forecasts and alerts.
Does it seems like the number of alerts due to wildfires has increased in the past few years? We’ve had 26 air-quality alerts since 2015—14 of those due to wildfire smoke. That’s twice the number of smoke-related alerts in the previous 7 years.