As gray cloud and a pungent odor swept through the Twin Cities Wednesday, the normally busy bike and running trails were largely deserted. Several commuters wore high-quality masks on their way home.
Air quality reached unhealthy levels in Minneapolis, St. Paul and much of Minnesota on Wednesday as the Upper Midwest became the latest pocket in the country to have air tainted by smoke drifting south from wildfires which they burned across Canada for weeks.
Like in New York and much of the East Coast last week, Minnesotans were looking at the skies and the air quality index to make sense of what was happening around them. On Wednesday, Minneapolis and St. Paul recorded Air Quality Index readings above 250, which the United States Environmental Protection Agency advises is « very unhealthy » for most people.
The smoke also spread to other parts of the Upper Midwest. Eau Claire, Wis., had an AQ1. of 190 Wednesday night, and Fargo, ND, a reading of 180.
The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency issued an air quality advisory through Friday warning that the air would be unhealthy for all in a stretch of the state roughly from the Twin Cities east to the state’s western border.
Wednesday afternoon, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board canceled all outdoor programming due to air quality. But in St. Paul, a small group of young men overcame unsanitary conditions to watch football practice at a college athletic field.
« It’s the first time I’ve seen it so bad, » said Nuh Suleiban, 21, panting. « It’s not nice to play ball in this weather. »
The state Pollution Control Agency said air quality is expected to improve Thursday in northern Minnesota, but that smoke will continue to linger across much of the southern part of the state.
Sarah Hick, 53, said she was surprised when she left her office on Wednesday to cycle home. To make it through the five-mile journey, she wore an orange KN95 mask.
« It was so smoky, » she said. « But with the mask on, I managed not to smell the smoke. »
Ms Hick said she saw the seemingly apocalyptic images from New York and hoped the Midwest would be spared.
“I thought we were over it,” she said as she walked her dog Tango, wearing a mask once again.