Why the air smells like a campfire, and what it means for air quality

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — If you noticed the smell of a campfire and a heavy haze in the air, you’re not alone. Smoke has rolled in across the region throughout Thursday, growing heavier throughout the afternoon.

KELOLAND’s Chief Meteorologist Jay Trobec says the smoke is coming from fires by Lake Winnipeg in Canada. He says the wind switched to the north overnight and brought the smoke to us. The north wind has mixed it down to the ground, making it easier to smell the smoke.

This smoke is not only responsible for the acrid smell of smoke lingering in the air, but also for the visible haze in the air as can be seen in our Watertown LiveCam.

Many of these fires, as showcased by the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program’s Airnow Fire and Smoke Map are burning in the northwestern United States in the areas of Montana, Idaho and eastern Washington. While these fires may be distant, wind carries their smoke far, as shown by the Airnow Interactive Map of Air Quality. See a comparison of the two below.

Fires vs air quality
South Dakota air quality as of 5:30 pm
Watertown LiveCam: 10:30 a.m., Thursday, July 29

As of 5:00 pm Thursday, Watertown is currently experiencing very poor air quality as measured by the EPA’s AQI. According to their data, Watertown at the time registers an AQI of 411, the highest location measured in the state.

Air quality in South Dakota cities as of 5pm

According to Airnow, the EPA calculates a NowCast for two pollutants: ozone and particle pollution. There is a separate algorithm for each.

What this data means is that the air quality in Watertown is currently considered Very Unhealthy. Airnow says that under these conditions, People with heart or lung disease, older adults, children and teens should all avoid physical activities outdoors. Everyone else, they say, should avoid strenuous outdoor activities, keep outdoor activities short, and consider moving physical activities indoors or rescheduling.

Photo from the Watertown Police Dept.

While a smoky haze is often seen throughout the day, a possible silver lining is the beautiful sunsets and sunrises that can result as the rays of sunlight pierce through the shifting blanket of smoke.

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