Thick smoke emanating from wildfires in Canada is currently spreading across the border, affecting the northern states of the United States. The smoke has created a hazy, orange-tinged atmosphere, leading to hazardous air quality in some areas.
Approximately 150 wildfires are currently raging in northern Alberta and British Columbia, causing acrid smoke to blanket western Canada and drift southward into the United States via upper-level winds. The smoke has reached as far as the Pacific Northwest, the northern Plains, and even the Mississippi Valley. Reports of smoky skies have been documented as far south as St. Louis and Paducah, Kentucky. However, the northern Rockies and Northern Plains are experiencing the most significant impact from the smoke on the American side of the border.
Although the smoke has largely remained elevated several thousand feet above the surface, posing minimal air quality threats for most affected areas, it has descended closer to the ground near the Canadian border, from Eastern Washington to Minnesota. As a result, air quality has been compromised, reaching unhealthy or even hazardous levels in cities across North and South Dakota. Mercer County, North Dakota, recorded an air quality index of 660 on Wednesday evening, surpassing the hazardous threshold of 400.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s AirNow air quality monitor, Pierre and the Badlands of South Dakota experienced hazardous air quality levels. Several areas across North Dakota, eastern Montana, and northern South Dakota registered air quality readings in the “Very Unhealthy” range. Air Quality Alerts have been issued throughout the entire state of Montana, as well as in eastern portions of Washington, parts of the Dakotas, and northern Minnesota.
Authorities are urging residents in these regions, particularly individuals sensitive to air quality such as children, the elderly, and those with heart or respiratory conditions, to limit outdoor activities. In cases of extremely healthy or hazardous air quality, officials recommend avoiding all outdoor activities. Visibility may decrease to as low as a quarter mile in areas of Montana and the Dakotas, posing dangerous driving conditions.
Forecasters anticipate improving conditions across the northern states on Friday and throughout the weekend as the smoke moves eastward. However, a period of thick smoke is expected to pass over the northern Great Lakes on Thursday and Friday. On May 16, wildfires in Alberta resulted in Calgary and its surrounding areas being enveloped in smoke. Environment and Climate Change Canada, along with Alberta Health Services, issued a special air quality statement for much of the province, cautioning about poor air quality, reduced visibility, and associated health effects.