Smoky skies: What the wildfires mean for the air quality in South Dakota

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)–You may have noticed a haziness in the skies across KELOLAND. This is a cause of wildfires in Canada and the western portion of the United States.

The fires put smoke and ash into the atmosphere, but it is trapped in the upper atmosphere and the winds in the middle part of the atmosphere are bringing that haze over KELOLAND, said Jay Trobec, KELOLAND Chief Meteorologist.

“So far, what has happened trapped kind of up in the sky,” Trobec said. “That’s why we’ve seen the reddish or brownish sunsets for the last several days and probably will for at least another day, but it is not coming down to the ground.”

This haze is also knocking a degree or two off of our temperatures, because the sun’s rays aren’t able to hit the ground and soak up the heat, he said.

Right now, our winds have been out of the South, Trobec said, but if they were coming out of the same direction as the fires, some of the smoke would mix down to the ground and we would be able to smell it.

“The skies aren’t clear, even though we are mainly cloud free,” he said.

The South Dakota Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources (DANR) Air Quality Index shows the air quality levels from across the state and ranks it on a scale of 0-500, while dividing the quality into six categories: good (0-50), moderate (51-100), unhealthy for sensitive groups (101-150), unhealthy (151-200) , very unhealthy (201-300) and hazardous (301-500).

According to the Air Quality Index, South Dakota is seeing good to moderate air quality levels.

Areas ranked good in the state include Sioux Falls (45), Pierre (25), the Badlands (48), Rapid City (41), Black Hawk (35) and Wind Cave (38).

The Northeastern and east-central portions of the state are seeing moderate air quality conditions. Brookings (59), Watertown (57) and Aberdeen (54) are all on the lower end of the moderate scale.

Trobec said the main reason that our air quality impact isn’t being impacted is because of the south wind, while most of the smoke is coming in from the west and northwest. So, the smoke is not able to come down to the ground. If the wind did switch around to the same direction as the smoke, then the air quality could be affected.

“But, in the meantime, that south wind is just bringing in the pure air, if you will, from the south,” he said.

There is a possibly that at some point the air quality could be lowered due to these fires, Trobec said. But, again, it depends mainly on wind direction. However, right now, there are a lot of south winds in the forecast.

“If we see that wind switch around to where some of the smoke is able to mix down to the ground, yeah then we will have that smokey smell in our lungs as well,” Trobec said.

The haze has been widespread across the area over the past few days, he said, and it looks like we will continue to have that smoke in our air over the next couple days.

This weekend, there is a pattern shift coming in that may help out with the haziness a little bit, but next week we will probably be seeing more smoke.

“So, we are probably not done with this yet,” Trobec said. “There’s an awful lot of fire going on to the west and especially to our northwest.”

This wildfire smoke is not only affecting our area, but it is reaching all the way to the east coast. In the Upper Midwest, it has been especially thick the past few days, he said.

When we have had some of the wildfire smoke come down to the ground in the past, Trobec said people have talked about the smell, but not necessarily problems breathing. There are also certain people who might be a little more sensitive to pollutants in the air and they will notice it.

While our air quality conditions are in the good and moderate categories, when the conditions are worse, there are health risks involved. When the air quality is affected by wildfire smoke, it’s health effects can range from eye and respiratory track irritation, and more serious issues such as reduced lung function, exacerbation of asthma and heart failure and premature death.

Those who are more vulnerable to the effects of wildfire smoke include children, pregnant women and the elderly.

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