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Friday, September 22, 2023

Midwestern Skies Blanketed in Smoky Air from Canadian Wildfires

In Chicago, the Air Quality Index (AQI) escalated to 209 by midday

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Sadaf Hasan
Sadaf Hasan
Aspiring reporter covering trending topics

UNITED STATES: On Tuesday, Chicago and other parts of the Upper Midwest were covered in a thick, smoky haze originating from wildfires in Canada. This unexpected deterioration in air quality startled many residents in the nation’s third-largest city, prompting them to wear masks when going outdoors.

Earlier this month, Chicagoans were mostly spared from suffering serious impacts from wildfires when hazardous smoke blanketed parts of the Northeast and Midwest for days on end. But they had no respite on Tuesday when the authorities officially classified the air as unhealthy in the city and various regions of Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

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Due to the wildfires, Air Quality Index in Chicago had escalated to 209, making it the most severe reading among all major cities worldwide for the day, as reported by IQAir, a Swiss company specialising in air-quality technology. Green Bay, Wis., registered a reading of 175, while Grand Rapids, Mich., experienced a significant spike to 255. 

Any reading exceeding 100 on the index serves as a cautionary signal for individuals with respiratory conditions to adopt the necessary safeguards.

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Chicago’s Mayor Brandon Johnson issued a warning urging residents—especially vulnerable groups such as children, older individuals, and those with heart or lung conditions—to stay indoors if possible or to don masks while going outside to prevent the worst consequences of the smoky air.

“This summer, cities across North America have seen unhealthy levels of air quality as a result of wildfire smoke, impacting over 20 million people in New York City, Washington, D.C., Montreal, and today here in Chicago,” said Johnson.

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“As we work to respond to the immediate health concerns in our communities, this concerning episode demonstrates and underscores the harmful impact that the climate crisis is having on our residents, as well as people all over the world,” the mayor further added.

Similar levels of smoke, potentially even more concentrated, were anticipated in other cities within the region, including Milwaukee, on Tuesday.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Milwaukee wrote that today “would normally be looked at as a beautiful day to go outside.” However, smoke is only allowing for visibility of one to three miles today.

In Chicago and Milwaukee, the situation is anticipated to improve over the night, but the haze is anticipated to last into Wednesday.

Summer camps hurried to come up with innovative activities that would keep kids inside and out of the toxic air. On Tuesday, the Lake Michigan shoreline appeared to be largely deserted in locations that are often crowded with runners, cyclists, and beachgoers during Chicago’s moderate summers.

In Michigan, the state veterinarian’s office issued a warning to pet owners, advising them to refrain from strenuous activities and to be aware that poor air quality could harm even birds.

On Tuesday, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued its 23rd and highest-ever air quality alert of the year as a veil of smoke hung over much of the state.

According to David Brown, an air quality meteorologist at the agency, Minnesota typically issues only two or three air quality alerts per year. However, in 2021, the previous record was set with 21 alerts throughout the entire year.

Brown noted that the wildfire season in Canada typically starts in early July, implying that residents in northern states of the US might face poor air quality for several weeks ahead.

He further stated, “There are a lot of fires that are getting very large, with the hottest days yet to come. These fires will likely continue to grow.”

The most recent air quality alert for Minnesota, issued on Tuesday morning, was scheduled to end on Thursday. It largely encompasses the state’s southern and eastern regions.

Also Read: Scientists Warn That Light Pollution Threatens Visibility of Stars within 20 Years


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