Air quality alert remains in effect on Thursday for Minnesota

After a smoky, hazy Wednesday in Minnesota, an air quality alert will continue on Thursday.

The surface smoke drifting from wildfires in Canada isn't expected to be as dense on Thursday as it was Wednesday but the haze will remain. Wednesday, Minnesota saw a red-level "unhealthy" air quality alert, as smoke from two fires drifted into the state and western Wisconsin.

The air quality alert is in effect until Friday morning when we are expected to finally see some relief.

How bad was the smoke on Wednesday? The Minnesota Air Quality Index, part of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said readings in St. Paul were Wednesday evening were the highest on record for the Twin Cities. The Minnesota Air Quality Index also estimates this will be the highest AQI recorded in the Twin Cities since records started in the 1980s.

Unhealthy air blankets Minnesota because of unusual, untended Canadian fires

The air turned pretty unhealthy through most of Minnesota and western Wisconsin on Wednesday.

Canadian wildfires are keeping the area in a haze, and an air quality alert is in effect through Friday morning. Most of Minnesota's air quality index rose above 150 by Wednesday evening, meaning the air is unhealthy for everyone, but especially young children and older people.

A brown haze hovered over Hinckley in the morning as four friends sat down for a visit.

"You can smell the smoke, but you really don’t feel it breathing it," said Evelyn Jarosiewicz of Hinckley.

"Like the air’s a little thicker or something," said her friend, Judy Williams, who was visiting from St. Paul.

All four of them have physical issues, and they knew by the smell they probably shouldn’t be outside.

"If we were thinking about our health, yeah, we should be inside with the air on and not breathing this stuff, but we can’t stay in there because then we’d go nuts," Jarosiewicz said.

Smoke from Canadian wildfires has now settled in along the Minnesota and Mississippi River valleys. On Wednesday, it came from Ontario, but in a season where more than 11 million acres have burned up north, Minnesota has also gotten smoke from western Canada.

Wildfires are burning all across the country.

"Usually we have maybe one fire complex that will impact Minnesota and we only have to worry about the one angle is smoke being pushed down," said Matt Taraldsen, a supervisory meteorologist for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Minnesota has a small wildfire of its own this week — about 30 acres in the Boundary Waters area.

U.S. Forest Service wilderness managers say this one isn’t contributing to the air quality problems throughout Minnesota, but conditions are ripe for dangerous fires this side of the border as well.

"We’re really seeing some really dry conditions," said USFS wilderness manager Tim Engrav. "Things have dried out fast over the last couple of months."

Most of Canada has had a similarly dry spring and without the near-record snowfall Minnesota saw in the winter. Canada is on a record fire pace now and a lot of the fires are in uninhabited areas, so firefighters are just letting them burn, sending smoke wherever the wind blows.

"So this might continue for the rest of the summer into the fall until the snow falls," Taraldsen said.

The current air quality alert is set to last through early Friday morning for now, but it’s possible the smoke could linger even longer on this go-round.

Map air quality

Minnesota quality alert extended until June 16. (Credit Minnesota Pollution Control Agency)