Welcome Back to Smoke Season

Climate Forest Fires
Welcome Back to Smoke Season

At around 1 pm on Monday, Minneapolis had the seventh-worst air quality of any city in the world, just behind Dhaka, Bangladesh. Various spots in the area had Air Quality Index scores in the 150 or higher range, high enough to fall into the “unhealthy” category where outdoor activity should be kept to a minimum. This is what is known as “summer” now.

The air quality problems in Minnesota and Wisconsin are thanks to wildfires in Canada, in particular in British Columbia. Thousands of people have been evacuated from small towns at the fire’s edge, and the smoke has drifted its way across several Canadian provinces and down across the border.

This happened last year too, of course. Canada’s unprecedented fire season saw a North Dakota-sized chunk of the country burn, more than seven times that of an average year. The smoke from a few particularly enormous blazes reached down into various parts of the U.S., including New York and the rest of the crowded northeast. Everyone bought air purifiers and took eerie photos through the haze.

Some of the worst air quality in American cities in decades, and all in a year where this country itself got pretty lucky when it came to fire. Less than 2.7 million acres in the U.S. burned last year, according to the National Interagency Fire Center; the previous two years saw more than 7 million acres go up in smoke, and the total has passed 10 million acres three times in the last decade. We are unlikely to stay lucky for long: more than 1.8 million acres have already burned so far this year, with months to go in the traditional fire season (not to mention the fact that “traditional” doesn’t really hold for things like fire season anymore); much of that was thanks to the enormous wildfire outbreak in Texas in late February and early March.

The NIFC is predicting “above normal” fire activity for regions ranging from Florida to New Mexico through the rest of the summer. That joins other projections of an exceptionally hot summer and an “extremely active” hurricane season. Hot, wet, and smoky is just how things are going to be from now on.

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