Hazy skies over southern Manitoba caused by wildfires burning in western U.S.

By | September 14, 2020

Hazy skies over southern Manitoba are being caused by the wildfires raging in Washington state and Oregon, and the smoke may soon be seen as far away as Quebec.

While it seems odd that something so far away could have an impact here, it’s not uncommon, “especially when we see the fires burning there for as long as they have,” said Eric Dykes of Environment and Climate Change Canada.

“There’s so much smoke that’s built up in the atmosphere in that region and … the winds above the surface are going to take that smoke and project it anywhere where those winds are taking them,” he said.

The smoke over Manitoba is in the upper atmosphere and is not affecting our air quality index, which remains at low risk, Dykes said.

That isn’t the case further the west, where southern British Columbia is getting the brunt of the smoke, with some areas at very high risk on the air quality scale.

“We’re not expecting the smoke aloft to mix down towards the surface. Se are well away from the source and there’s nothing really coming our way that’s going to help mix that smoke down,” Dykes said.

“So that’s the good news, in the sense that the smoke is going to stay aloft and give us hazy skies, perhaps quite a colourful sunset tonight and maybe a quite a beautiful orange sunrise tomorrow morning.”

There is a cold front moving into Manitoba Tuesday evening and into Wednesday that will blow the smoke out of our region, he said.

Symptoms could cause confusion

Symptoms caused by smokey air, such as runny noses and sore throats, could cause confusion for people across Canada wondering if they’re experiencing the early signs of COVID-19, said Dr. Christopher Labos, a Montreal-based cardiologist and epidemiologist.

“It’s going to complicate the situation, because now you’re going to have a bunch of people who aren’t sure, ‘Am I short of breath because of the smoke, or am I short of breath because I have coronavirus?'” he told CBC News.

“That’s going to make things a lot harder, and it’s going to require us to do a lot more testing, because a lot of people just won’t be sure of what exactly is making them feel sick.”

While the air quality index is at low risk, now is a time of year when seasonal allergy flare-ups can occur. 

Pollen from ragweed and harvest dust created by threshing grain are a couple of common causes of seasonal allergies, Lung Association president and CEO Neil Johnston said in an email.

Hazy yellow skies could be seen around Winnipeg Monday morning. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

While he hasn’t heard of any issues stemming from Monday’s smoky air, it’s a good time to think about what to do if the air quality declines, he said.

“People with chronic lung health issues and allergies should be aware of the air quality before going out,” Johnston said. 

“Typical non-medical masks likely will not be helpful to screen out smoke and allergens. Our advice to folks is to ensure to take their controller medications as prescribed and have their rescue inhaler medications handy when they go out.”

On poor air quality days, those with respiratory conditions should reduce their time outdoors, he said. It also helps to keep windows closed and ensure furnace filters are clean.

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