Minnesota sets record for most air quality alerts in a season

Published 6:41 pm Tuesday, June 27, 2023

By Olivia Stevens

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued a record 23rd air quality alert of the year Tuesday morning, as yet another round of smoke from Canadian wildfires drifts across southern and eastern parts of the state.

Air quality readings were in the red category, meaning unhealthy for everyone, across most of eastern Minnesota — including the Twin Cities — through the morning hours Tuesday and into the afternoon.

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The alert said air quality is forecast to continue at least in the orange category, meaning unhealthy for sensitive groups, all day Wednesday. The alert — which includes the metro area north to Duluth, the Iron Range and the North Shore, as well as southern Minnesota from Worthington and Marshall east to Mankato, Rochester and Winona — will expire early Thursday.

Air pollution on Tuesday was worst in the northeastern, east-central and southern parts of the state, according to the MPCA.

MPCA meteorologist Nick Witcraft said another shot of smoke from wildfires in Quebec could worsen air quality even further in southeast Minnesota later Tuesday night and Wednesday.

But a cold front coming in later Wednesday should bring cleaner air to the whole region by the end of Thursday.

Witcraft said the intensity of this bout of smoke in Minnesota was unexpected, but additional air quality alerts will likely be issued over the coming weeks.

“I would expect smoke throughout the rest of the summer — anytime the winds come out of Canada,” Witcraft said. “Until Canada gets a lot of rain, these fires are going to keep going — so unfortunately, more of the same.”

Witcraft said those in sensitive groups — such as those with asthma or other respiratory conditions — should limit activity outdoors until the air quality alert lifts.

This summer has broken Minnesota’s record for the most air quality alerts. The previous record was 21 alerts issued in 2021, according to the MPCA. The average is two to three alerts a season.

Air quality alerts also were in effect Tuesday for all of Wisconsin and Iowa.