Canadian wildfires worsen air quality, prompt smoke advisory in Omaha metro

Amid yet another smoke advisory, health and weather experts around Omaha explain why the metro has seen an uptick in air quality alerts.
Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 5:39 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Anyone walking outside their door in the Omaha metro Wednesday morning likely noticed the smoke in the air.

It kind of stings the eyes and can cause a little trouble breathing.

The haze hanging over the metro is imported from wildfires in Canada.

“It looks like most of the fires are up in northern parts of Canada, the northwest territories,” 6 News Chief Meteorologist Rusty Lord said. “And then we had a cold front roll through yesterday and you probably noticed the wind change a little bit. You can see all the red and orange shading [on the AQI map], that’s the unhealthy air quality. That’s all the smoke that rolled behind the front.”

The Douglas County Health Department keeps track of the smoke that rolls into the Omaha metro. The county’s air quality index, or AQI, started out in the unhealthy range Wednesday.

“So, let’s say you have asthma, emphysema, bronchitis,” DCHD Director Dr. Lindsay Huse. “If you have really anything where your respiratory system or even your cardiac system is involved, it might be a good idea to stay inside as much as you possibly can.”

DCHD has been monitoring air quality more frequently this year and sending out more health advisories.

“A lot of that has to do with the fact that our climate is warming up and things are a lot dryer than they used to be,” Dr. Huse said.

Lord says those fires that are started with the help of dryer conditions are something that the weather team will keep a close eye on.

“It’s something we have to pay attention to now with every cold front as we get into Fall,” Lord said. “All these will pull cold Canadian air down and as long as those fires are still rolling gup there, it brings with it the threat of more and more wildfire smoke.”

Dr. Huse told 6 News it’s a good idea to wear a mask, especially one with high filtration, if outdoors when the air quality is dangerous.