Recent air quality impacts descending from Canadian wildfires

Air quality has been impacted for many people sensitive to respiratory pollution in the past few weeks, in large part due to Canadian wildfires that continue to rage far beyond normal parameters. A drier than average spring and lower snowpack in the Canadian provinces has led to eight million burned acres this year across Canada, with nearly half a million acres in Quebec alone. The smoke from these fires is traveling south and east, following jet streams and weather patterns that drift thick, hazy smoke into Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin.  

The lack of rain in the Midwest has also contributed to the haze remaining in the air, following the very light wind south and east from the wildfires into the Midwest, with even more impact to air quality found along the northeastern United States. Current air quality is listed as unhealthy for sensitive people in Minnesota and Wisconsin, with levels hovering between 110 and 124 from the Twin Cities in Minnesota to northeast Iowa.

“Sensitive groups” include children, older adults and people with asthma or other pre-existing respiratory conditions.

Several wildfires have also been detected throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan, where red flag warnings have been issued due to air quality. In Iowa, there is a Fire Weather Watch in effect due to low rainfall and dry conditions. Winds are pushing south and east from the Canadian border, with a slight cooling trend pushing down into the states from Canada over the next several days, and less than a 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms through Monday, June 12.

The U.S. Weather Service predicts that much of northeast Iowa will likely develop a drought this season through Aug. 31. The region has experienced only 50-75 percent of normal precipitation levels over the past 30 days. Soil moisture conditions at 20 cm depth range from 10-30 percent, while depths up to 100 cm show at least a 70 percent moisture content.

More than 400 wildfires continue to rage across Canada, with an estimated 26,000 people still displaced from their homes after being forced to evacuate, according to the Canadian government in a news conference held recently. Approximately 150 of those fires are in Quebec alone.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with partner agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA, maintains an interactive map of air quality data called AirNow ( that allows users to see the locations of active fires and assess local air quality conditions and risks.

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