A hazy shade of summer
BY MIKE WARREN
WISCONSIN – Hot, dry and hazy. Those have been the words most often used to describe Wisconsin’s summer weather so far. To make matters worse, there appears to be no end in sight to the latter.
Hundreds of wildfires burning in northern parts of Canadian provinces are sending a seemingly endless supply of haze and smoke to Wisconsin and beyond. And this may just be the beginning.
“A lot of these fires that are burning are in areas where they either can’t extinguish the fires because they’re in such remote areas, or they just don’t have the staff,” said the Wisconsin DNR’s Ron Schneider, during a June 27 conference call with Wisconsin media outlets. “They’ve brought in firefighters from France, from Italy, Australia, Mexico, so they have a lot of partners helping them to extinguish these fires, but it looks like we’re gonna have – as long as we have this northerly flow from the air that goes from the northern provinces in Canada down through the Midwest – we’re going to be seeing this smoke,” Schneider added. “The only thing that we can hope for is the fires are extinguished, which may be months before some of the Canadian forest fires are extinguished, or a change in the weather pattern which would take the main flow of the air, instead of that northerly flow, maybe more of a western or southwest pattern, like we normally see in summer in Wisconsin.”
Schneider also mentioned this has become an above-average year, and early season, for forest fires in Canada, which is facing the same high fire dangers and drought situations like we are here in Wisconsin. For those reasons, the DNR is keeping its firefighters here, and not sending aid to Canada.
“We did send some firefighters to Michigan to help them with a 2,400-acre fire,” Schneider said. “We do have a compact with Ontario and Manitoba, and part of the reason why we didn’t send any firefighters to Canada yet is because of our drought here in Wisconsin. Typically we’re not very busy with fires in June in Wisconsin, but this year due to the drought, we are using all of our resources from Wisconsin DNR to take care of Wisconsin first,” Schneider added. “Hopefully we keep getting more rain and then eventually we can assist our partners to the north.”
Most unhealthy smoke impacts have been felt across much of eastern Wisconsin, in particular along the Lake Michigan shoreline, according to the DNR’s Craig Czarnecki.
“In the Milwaukee area we are seeing some very unhealthy AQIs (Air Quality Indices) there. In fact, Milwaukee is currently experiencing some of the highest levels of air pollution, not just in the U.S., but across the globe, right now,” Czarnecki said, during the same June 27 conference call.
Some of the thickest smoke plumes of the summer were seen moving north to south across the Badger State during the late morning hours of June 27, when the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources issued a 48-hour Air Quality Advisory for the entire state.
“Go inside if you have any symptoms, things like coughing and shortness of breath” Czarnecki added.
“If you do have a respiratory or cardiovascular health condition that puts you at greater risk and need to spend time outside, a well-fitting N95 mask may be helpful,” said Mark Werner from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. “Air conditioning can be helpful, but not everyone has access to air conditioning, so if you have a neighbor or relative who doesn’t have air conditioning, it’s a good idea to check on your neighbors and relatives who you think may be more at risk,” Werner added.
“People with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children should avoid prolonged or heavy exertion and consider avoiding all physical outdoor activities; everyone else should reduce prolonged or heavy exertion and consider avoiding prolonged or heavy exertion,” read the DNR’s Air Quality Advisory.
“There’s a few things people can do to protect themselves from the wildfire smoke,” says Czarnecki. “I guess the big one – if you don’t have to be outside, the best way to avoid wildfire smoke is to stay indoors. And in your home, make sure your doors and windows are closed, so you can keep that wildfire smoke and those particles outside. And then run your air conditioning on recirculate if you can, to help circulate some of that fresh air.”
For more information on current air quality, please see: https://airquality.wi.gov.