Dec 18, 2023 - News

Canadian wildfire smoke made 2023 a terrible year for Twin Cities air quality

Data: NASA GEOS-FP. Map: Erin Davis/Axios Visuals

Minnesotans inhaled more Canadian wildfire smoke last summer than much of the nation, an Axios special report on air quality shows.

Why it matters: Unhealthy levels of smoke and other air pollution are bad for you.

  • In the Twin Cities, the cumulative exposure to fine particle pollution this year was the equivalent of smoking 89.8 cigarettes.

The big picture: The 2023 wildfire season more than doubled the previous record for fire-related air pollution in the U.S., Axios' Will Chase, Erin Davis, and Kavya Beheraj report.

  • The average American was exposed to 66% more air pollution than in 2021, according to data from the Stanford Environmental Change and Human Outcomes Lab.

Zoom in: The Twin Cities average air quality index, which measures levels of five pollutants, was 5.1 times higher than the same period in 2022, and well above the average recorded since 2014.

Flashback: Plumes of smoke and high temperatures blanketed the region with haze last summer, resulting in a surge of bad air quality days.

  • The worst day for smoke in the Twin Cities was June 14 when the local AQI was one of the highest recorded globally.

Be smart: Human-caused climate change has lengthened fire seasons, increased the likelihood of them, and strengthened their intensity — all of which add up to more smoke in the future.

The bottom line: Worsening wildfire smoke since 2016 has erased or reversed decades of air quality improvements from pollution reduction efforts in 30 states, according to a Climate Central analysis.

  • And it's only going to get worse. The latest reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change project that future warming will cause even more frequent fire weather conditions.

Go deeper: See how wildfire smoke affected you in 2023 via our interactive report.

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