As parts of Wisconsin and Illinois wake up in the coming days, the usual vibrant blue sky may be replaced by a milky, grayish-white haze.

This change in the atmosphere is a result of smoke from Canadian wildfires making its way into the region, with its arrival expected by early Wednesday morning.

Getty Images
Getty Images

Smoke from Canadian and U.S. wildfires have spread across the skies of many western, central, and Midwest U.S. states over the last few weeks; may dim the sun and create colorful sunrises and sunsets. - National Weather Service

The thickness of the smoke plume remains uncertain and concerns about its potential impact on air quality are building in Illinois and Wisconsin.

What is the source of this wildfire smoke?

The extensive plume of smoke originates from wildfires in the Canadian Rockies, primarily in Alberta. The situation has prompted the Alberta government to declare a provincial state of emergency due to the scale of the fires.

As of Tuesday, there were 86 active wildfires reported, several of which were significant in size.

National Weather Service (Chicago)
National Weather Service (Chicago)

How does wildfire smoke affect the appearance of the sky?

Wildfire smoke often gives the sky a milky or hazy appearance. However, during sunrise and sunset, it can enhance the colors, intensifying the oranges and reds in the sky.

Unfortunately, if the smoke plume becomes too thick, it can diminish the vibrant colors typically associated with these times of the day.

Will the smoke reach the surface and affect air quality in Illinois?

It's unlikely that a significant amount of smoke will mix down to the surface in Central Illinois. However, there are reports of downward mixing occurring in Minnesota, leading to the issuance of Air Quality Alerts by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

The smoke is anticipated to cause the air quality index (AQI) in Northern Minnesota to reach the orange category, indicating unhealthy conditions for sensitive groups.

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In Illinois, the AQI may occasionally reach the yellow category, indicating acceptable air quality with a slight risk for certain individuals.

U.S. Air Quality Index
U.S. Air Quality Index

What are the potential health effects associated with the yellow AQI category?

Yellow is a moderate warning and means air quality is generally acceptable. However, individuals who may be sensitive to air pollution could experience some health effects.

If you believe the air quality is concerning for your health you should remain indoors, especially if you're experiencing symptoms.

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