By Jeff Wagner

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Searching for a picturesque skyline shot, Nick Schmitt knew the Cherry Spoon at the Walker Art Center’s Sculpture Garden was a good starting point. He just didn’t expect it to look so hazy in his frame.

“It’s a little weird, especially knowing that it’s not a cloudy day at all,” he said.

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If not for the wildfire smoke, downtown Minneapolis would’ve had a blue sky backdrop.

“It’s pretty bad right now. It’s about as bad as it gets,” said Nicholas Witcraft, an air quality forecaster for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

“Often our air quality alerts will usually affect only a section of the state or a corner of the state but this one’s unusual. It’s affecting the whole entire state and its large magnitude,” said Witcraft.

Wildfire smoke from Canada blanketed much of Minnesota for the second time in a little more than a week. The smoke was so thick, many people could not only smell it, but taste it.

The MPCA measures air quality using scientific equipment that draws in air through a paper filter. The particles in the air get trapped in the filter and the filter is then weighed to determine the air quality which carries a scale of 0-500.

The Twin Cities and St. Cloud at times pushed deep into the 201-300 range Thursday, considered very unhealthy for everyone.

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The pollution from car exhaust, factories, crops, and livestock often make up the particles hitting the filter. Thanks to the wildfires, a more dominant particle has arrived.

“Most of it is black carbon, just straight black carbon coming from the fire,” said Witcraft. “What I would not recommend is say going for a long run or a bike ride.”

If someone engages in an activity that includes heavy breathing, such as running, Witcraft said the poor air quality has a better chance of getting deeper into a person’s lungs. That could lead to shortness of breath or a lack of energy lasting a few days.

It’s advice that Schmitt, a runner, will keep in mind.

“I would probably opt for inside on a treadmill,” Schmitt said.

The winds will shift this smoke out of Minnesota late Friday. But as long as the wildfires burn, Witcraft said it’s likely the hazy skies will make another appearance within the next week.

“By Saturday, another cold front’s coming in. We get another few couple days of northerly winds and we expect another shot of smoke over the weekend,” he said.

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To see the current air quality in Minnesota, click here.  To learn more about the Air Quality Index, click here.

Jeff Wagner