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Smoke Alert: Canadian Wildfires Create Health Hazard in South Dakota

While part-time Governor Kristi Noem spent Thursday on her high horse squawking about critical race theory and abortion and then riding said horse around the Cheyenne rodeo grounds before attending her Wyoming fundraiser, eastern South Dakota labored with Minnesota and eastern North Dakota under the worst regional air quality crisis in recent memory.

Yesterday’s north winds broke the recent days’ heat, but we couldn’t open the windows and enjoy the cool because smoke from Canadian wildfires swirled our way from Minnesota and settled over the state. The particulate matter turned the sky grey, dropped visibility to less than a mile in places, and creating unhealthy breathing conditions from Aberdeen and Summit down to Mitchell and Yankton. KSFY weatherman Tyler Roney posted this map of the stunningly high Air Quality Index (and here, high means bad) on the prairie:

Tyler Roney, KSFY Weather, AQI map, tweeted 2021.07.29.
Tyler Roney, KSFY Weather, Air Quality Index map, tweeted 2021.07.29 17:23 CDT.

When the AQI rises above 150—i.e., moves from orange to red—EPA guidance calls the air “unhealthy” and starts warning everyone, not just “sensitive groups” like old folks, kids, and people with heart and lung diseases—to reduce outdoor activity and prolonged or heavy exertion. Under that dark maroon blob smothering Watertown and rolling out to De Smet, Big Stone City, Rosholt, Webster, and Clark, the AQI shot past the “very unhealthy” 200s up into the “hazardous” 300s and 400s (the AQI maxes out at 500), where the EPA tells everyone “Avoid all physical activity outdoors.” Watertown, where the AQI reached 418, canceled its Thursday Night Live downtown concert.

The Department of Agriculture (and Natural Resources) issued an air quality alert for eastern South Dakota. DA(NR) noted that hourly fine (2.5 millionths of a meter and smaller, the most unhealthy) particulate concentrations greater than 35 micrograms per cubic meter “are a concern for public health.” From 7 a.m. to midnight yesterday, Watertown’s PM-2.5 concentrations were above 200, peaking at 1 p.m. at 511.4, almost 15 times worse than DA(NR)’s cited health threshold. Overnight, PM-2.5 concentrations remained above 180 in Watertown and Brookings and far above the 35 threshold at every other reporting site in the state. Even in Rapid City, which enjoyed relatively healthy air yesterday, the PM-2.5 concentration rose overnight to 92.8 as of 4 a.m. MDT today. (You can see current detailed air quality readings for South Dakota monitoring sites here.)

Minnesota Public Radio said the AQI of 401 in Brainerd and then 422 in St. Cloud yesterday morning were the highest recorded in Minnesota since the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency set up monitors statewide in 2000.

My Twitter friends reported strong smoke in Eureka, Summit, Brookings, Sioux Falls, Howard, Ramona, and Mankato.

The National Weather Service predicts this smoke will persist at least through today.

I haven’t seen any professors beating kids over the head with critical race theory books. I haven’t seen any doctors forcing any women to abort their pregnancies. And I haven’t seen our Governor through all of her smokescreens saying anything about the real smoke causing an immediate health crisis for the majority of South Dakotans or about what we can do to check the climate change that is bringing us this serious health problem.


  1. jerry 2021-07-30 15:23

    Get used to it, welcome to the world of climate change denial. Cough cough, as NOem would say, “smells like a Texas barbeque, ya hoo, keep those fires burning (pony wheezing).

  2. Arlo Blundt 2021-07-30 20:15

    Well..its hard to deny.. “The Woods are on fire”.

  3. ABC 2021-07-31 13:30

    I won’t get used to it!

    DEFEAT isnt part of my thinking process.

    This type of pollution and climate crisis HAS to be countered by eliminating pollution and reducing carbon levels.

    You can be Cynical. Your point of view won’t prevail.

    We can create a better world! (Cynics need not apply). Starting today!

  4. DaveFN 2021-07-31 20:41

    To your point, Cory, Noem is a fatalist when it comes to any thing natural. Fires in the Black Hills? There will always be fires. A virus sweeping the globe? What will be will be. Drought, blizzard, flood? Gotta live with them to. Choking atmospheric smoke from wildfires? Just another natural phenomena we face, certainly not worth a comment on her part to vulnerable citizens in SD.

    She’s stuck on Ephesians 6:12, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood [the material, “natural” constraints of our existence], but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,” in other words things like perceived attacks by ideas (she doesn’t understand, which makes them all the more dangerous) such as CRT, and a host of other ideas she demonized since she perceives them as insidious, however hard-pressed she is to begin to articulate just why she finds them so.

    The material conditions of existence don’t deserve the time of day in her book, be they viruses or poverty or smoke threatening the elderly. It’s the threat of ideas she doesn’t understand, the very world of the mind, that threatens her most which claim her attention and efforts.

    A dose of Marx’s dialectical materialism would do her nothing but a world of good.

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