Region's smoky skies ready to clear, but threaten to return as early as next week

Haze will reduce throughout the day Friday, May 19, and there will be a weekend break from the heaviest smoke. Smoke could return, however, as early as next week.

Smoke from Canadian wildfires casts a haze Thursday, May 18, 2023, over south Fargo.
Michael Vosburg/The Forum

FARGO — Smoky conditions over the past 24-plus hours have subjected residents across North Dakota and much of Minnesota to “unhealthy” air quality from the ongoing Canadian wildfires.

Austin Perroux, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service based in Grand Forks, said the good news is that the smoke will at least improve throughout Friday.

The haze will reduce throughout the day and there will be a weekend break from the heaviest smoke. There is a strong chance, however, that the smoke will be back as early as next week, Perroux added.

“The greatest advice that we can give,” Perroux said, “is to basically stay indoors (when the smoke is bad) and try and avoid heavy exertion with outdoor activities.”


With the Fargo Marathon right around the corner, runners and supporters can likely breath a sigh of relief given Saturday's forecast. Weather conditions for race day appear to be ideal, according to WDAY Meteorologist John Wheeler, as the worst of the poor air conditions from the fires are expected to clear out before the race.

Wheeler predicts the area will likely experience similar smoky conditions well into the fall this year as forest fires ignite to the west and northwest.

The cause of the fires is complicated, Wheeler added, but climate change is likely driving an increase in frequency.
Motorists travel west under smoky conditions along 13th Avenue in West Fargo on Friday, July 30, 2021.
David Samson / The Forum

The poor air quality is nothing new to the region. The summer of 2021 saw smoky skies become a regular site , with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency at one point describing the smoke as an "unprecedented significant air quality event."

Smoke’s impact on health

Minnesota’s current air quality alert was first issued by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) on Thursday, May 18, and expires at 6 a.m. Friday.

The difference between air quality alerts in Minnesota and North Dakota

"Air quality is expected to be unhealthy for everyone across most of Minnesota," the MPCA said in a statement.

The smoke is being swept in by a cold front moving through the state, the MPCA said, and it brings with it tiny particles of ash and soot that can irritate the respiratory system, especially for those with preexisting respiratory conditions.

In the Red River Valley, residents who ventured outdoors have experienced air quality that fluctuates between “unhealthy” and “very unhealthy,” according to WDAY meteorologist Jared Piepenburg.


Both Fargo and West Fargo public schools elected to hold recess indoors on Thursday to keep children sheltered from the air conditions, following the advice of the MPCA which asked residents to avoid prolonged time outdoors.

The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality echoed similar advise, recommending “people with respiratory conditions, the elderly and young children to avoid prolonged outdoor exposure."

The North Dakota Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) website encourages residents to visit with their doctor for advice on managing the health impacts of wildfire smoke.

Meanwhile, anyone experiencing health effects related to poor air quality should contact their health care provider.

Those with severe symptoms, chest pain, trouble breathing or who believe they may be having a heart attack or stroke should call 911 immediately.

Residents can stay informed by visiting their air quality monitoring page or check their air quality at .

People looking to filter out 95% of the particulate in the air can purchase a N95 NIOSH approved respirator masks , the DEQ states.

Residents can also stay inside air-conditioned spaces during smoke events, they add, and should set their home air conditioner to recirculate indoor air to reduce the amount of particulate brought in from outside.


While driving, the department encourages motorists to turn on their air conditioner and recycle their air.

Staying indoors until air conditions improve is still the advisable thing, Perroux said.

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