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Michigan air quality to improve, after wildfire smoke shrouds state yet again

Wildfire smoke led to haze hanging over Grand Rapids on June 27, 2023.
Dustin Dwyer/Michigan Radio
Wildfire smoke led to haze hanging over Grand Rapids on June 27, 2023.

For now, it looks like the hazy, smoggy smoke plumes from Canadian wildfires are moving southeast of Michigan, with the air quality forecast expected to be in the “good” to “moderate” range through Friday.

That’s after wildfire smoke prompted the state to issue an “Air Quality Action Day Advisory” for the weekend into Monday, yet again warning the public about pollution made of some of the smallest measurable particles, also known as PM 2.5. Just weeks ago, plumes of smoke covered much of the state, with days where Detroit was ranked as having some of the worst air quality in the world.

This time wasn’t nearly as bad, said Stephanie Hengesbach, a meteorologist with the Air Quality Division of the Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy.

"This is a completely different weather pattern than we had two weeks ago that's bringing the smoke plume down,” she said. “There was a cold front. It originated from Canada. And as that cold front started sinking southeast towards our region, you could see with that frontal boundary just the fine particulate and the wildfire smoke was just pretty much building.”

This time, the smoke was from far western Canada. "These fires were a bit further away, definitely further away than they were two weeks ago,” Hengesbach says. “So we did see increases in PM 2.5 concentrations. However, they were not nearly as high as they were a few weeks ago. [But] still high enough that triggered the need for us to warn the public and issue our Air Quality Action Day, and we did do that.”

The rest of the week should improve, she says, with air quality expected to be in the “good” to “moderate” range. But smoke forecasts can only predict a few days at a time.

“As long as these fires are going on, it will be something that we're going to have to keep an eye on here in Michigan,” Hengesbach said. “I'm thinking this probably won’t be the very last time we'll have smoke plumes come over us. … Until these fires are under control, or just are finally put out, this could be something that we're going to see. It’s just depending on the weather patterns we have across our state.”

Kate Wells is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently covering public health. She was a 2023 Pulitzer Prize finalist for her abortion coverage.
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