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Wildfire smoke from Canada blankets Wyoming 

Smokey skies with trees and mountains.
Caitlin Tan
Wyoming Public Media
Smokey skies near Happy Jack outside of Laramie on Friday, May 19.

Much of Wyoming is covered in smoke, something many people are not used to seeing until late summer.

Late last week, standing outside in Laramie, the air felt thick and smokey. A person could feel it in their lungs, eyes and nose. It turns out, it is because of wildfire smoke coming all the way from Canada, and it is blanketing much of the state.

“While the western U.S. had a huge snow year, Canada had a drier winter relative to average, and also it's extremely warm just since late April,” Wyoming meteorologist Alan Smith said. “And that's helped with record high temperatures and that's helped to fuel early wildfires and they've been burning very large.”

Apparently, it is normal for there to be prairie fires in Alberta this time of year, but not at this magnitude, Smith said. He added that a shift in northerly winds on Thursday, May 18, created the perfect storm to cover Wyoming with all of the smoke.

Smith said the smoke should clear early this week. But, as long as the smoke is lingering, the air quality will not be great. The air measurement is called the AQI index and for air quality levels to be safe, they need to be below 50.

“But in some parts especially in southeast Wyoming it's greater than 150which is considered just unhealthy for all populations,” Smith said, referring to air quality levels in Laramie late last week.

In other parts of the state, the AQI was hovering around 100 late last week, which is unsafe for sensitive groups – like the young and elderly. Generally, when air quality is bad, people should not spend a lot of time outside.

Now, much of the air quality around the state has returned to below 100 and is rated as ‘moderate,’ which means the air quality can affect sensitive groups.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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