The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency expanded a previously-issued air quality alert to include the Duluth and Cloquet areas and places tot he south, following a previously-issued alert that didn't include these areas.

The alert, issued by the MPCA on Wednesday morning, now includes the northern half of Minnesota, with cities like Duluth, Cloquet, Moose Lake, Hinckley, and Brainerd in the alert zone. Towns like Two Harbors, Ely, Grand Marais, the Iron Range, and other Northern Minnesota towns had already been under the alert.

The MPCA's updated alert is effective as of 9 am on Wednesday, July 14 through 9 am on Friday, July 16.

Why was this alert issued?

Wildfires in Canada, including a number of them north of the Minnesota border in Ontario and Manitoba, are generating a lot of smoke that is being pushed into Minnesota and parts of Northern Wisconsin by wind out of the north behind a front pushing into the region.

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Here's a map from the Fire Information Resource Management System identifying current fires in the US and Canada as of the time of this post.

US Forest Service - FIRMS US/Canada
US Forest Service - FIRMS US/Canada

Fine particle levels are reaching what the MPCA calls the "red AQI category" in far northern and western Minnesota, which is a level considered unhealthy for all people, including those that don't have respiratory issues normally.

The remaining parts of this alert area (pictured above) - which includes the Twin Ports area and other areas on the southern reaches of the alert area - are expected to experience "orange AQI category" levels of air particles, which are considered unhealthy for sensitive groups, according to the MPCA.

You can monitor the most current air quality conditions from the MPCA here.

What about Wisconsin?

The Wisconsin DNR doesn't currently operate air quality monitoring stations in Superior or any other nearby cities. For those in or near Superior, it is safe to assume similar conditions to those being reported for Duluth.

The nearest monitoring station is located in Odanah, and is currently marking a "moderate" air conditions, which is one step worse than "good". The other two monitoring locations in far northern Wisconsin are marking similar conditions. Here are the conditions according to the Wisconsin DNR's air quality map as of the time of this post.

Wisconsin DNR
Wisconsin DNR

Who are "sensitive groups" that might be most impacted?

The MPCA says people with asthma, COPD, or other breathing conditions as well as people with heart disease or high blood pressure, children and older adults, and anyone doing physically exerting activities such as sports or physical work activities are more likely to be impacted by this smoke.

Precautions to take

The MPCA recommends everyone, even those not in a "sensitive group", take precautions during air quality conditions like these.

Tips offered by the organization include:

  • Take it easy and listen to your body.
  • Limit, change, or postpone your physical activity.
  • If possible, stay away from local sources of air pollution like busy roads and wood fires.
  • If you have asthma, or other breathing conditions like COPD, make sure you have your relief/rescue inhaler with you.
  • People with asthma should review and follow guidance in their written asthma action plan. Make an appointment to see your health provider if you don’t have an asthma action plan.

When will we see relief?

The general wind direction is expected to shift away from the north and to a southerly wind on Friday and into the weekend, which will bring warmer conditions, but should reduce the amount of smoke in the region.

With the number of fires currently burning in western US states and across Canada and continued dry conditions in the forecast, it is likely more smoke and subsequent air quality alerts could be on the way for our region.

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