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Smoke-filled skies on the horizon, officials say

Wildfires located in the western portion of the United States and in Canada are sending smoke across North Dakota. The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality advises residents to consider limiting prolonged outdoor activities while smoky conditions fluctuate across the state.

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A smoky atmosphere persists along Interstate-94 near Dickinson as traffic travels west bound on Monday, Aug. 16, 2021. (Contributed / North Dakota Department of Transportation)

As wildfires remain ablaze throughout Montana and in Canada, smoke is predicted to linger across western North Dakota until midweek, which has prompted officials in urging residents to use caution while outdoors.

The direction that the upper atmospheric winds are currently blowing and how the forecast is looking, Meteorologist Todd Hamilton of the U.S. National Weather Service of Bismarck said that smoke is going to stay until Wednesday evening, which has a 40% chance of showers and thunderstorms.

“The upper level winds and mid-level winds are coming from the North Pacific Northwest and over the Northern Rockies and into the Northern Plains. So I would expect that to probably continue through midweek for sure,” Hamilton said. “Beyond that, it gets a little bit harder to tell because we do have a system that's coming off the Pacific, and that's going to pull in winds as we head into the later part of the week from the South. So that could push that smoke out of the area as we had into Thursday and Friday; it might not be all at one time, but it's certainly potential to see less smoke. And then we're also seeing a chance of rain later in the week and so that would also help to wash out the atmosphere and clear things up a little bit.”

Extremely small particles of ash and soot, or particulate matter, have increased over the last few hours across the western part of the state, according to a statement on Monday, Aug. 16, by the North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality. With higher temperatures over the next few days, high particulate numbers could heighten complications.

“Particulate matter can irritate the respiratory system, especially for those who suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or conditions such as asthma and allergies. The NDDEQ advises people with respiratory conditions, the elderly and young children to avoid prolonged outdoor exposure,” the NDDEQ press release stated.

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As the drought continues, these conditions will likely reoccur over the coming weeks, officials stated.

The U.S. National Weather Service of Bismarck uses a couple different models to predict where that smoke is going to be, Hamilton said. Until the wildfires are extinguished, Hamilton foresees that the smoky conditions could continue into the fall season, with possibilities of it tapering off early on depending on weather trends and precipitation.

“With an earlier fire season starting out West and in Canada, it seems like a little more (smoke) than usual this year than we have in years past,” he added.

The NDDEQ’s Division of Air Quality is closely monitoring its air sampling network across North Dakota. Although most of the smoke impact currently seems to be concentrated in the western part of the state, weather conditions could push smoke to other portions of the state in the next several days.

For those who are experiencing a reaction to the smoky conditions, such as breathing, are encouraged to seek immediate medical help, the NDDEQ press release noted. For up-to-date information on the region’s current air quality and tips on respiratory protection during a smoke event, visit airnow.gov .

Related Topics: DICKINSONWEATHER
Jackie Jahfetson is a former reporter for The Dickinson Press.
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