Motorists driving north of Humboldt around midday on Saturday encountered an experience that’s become more frequent on the prairies. Off in the distance, a visible upper air haze gathered and began to obscure the distant trees lines. A few more kilometres on the road and visual references at the side of the road vanished as vehicles were enveloped in a pall of smoke. 

The prairies are likely to experience more of these types of days this summer as forest fires in the four western provinces spark up for another season. Saturday may have just been a taste to come for another smoky season.  

In Saturday’s case, the smoke was produced by fires currently burning in northern BC and Albert, says meteorologist with Environment and Climate Change Canada, Shannon Moodie.  

“On the weekend, we had a cold front that was moving southward through the prairies, and behind that we had a very dense band of smoke that tracked through the southern prairies and gave very poor air quality in smoke as it tracked southward.” 

Persistent dry conditions in the northern prairies and BC continue to exacerbate the fire situation. This could lead to another smoky spring and summer, says Moodie.  

“We are entering wildfire season, and with that we are going to see these fires pop up, and we’re going to see periodic spells of smoking drifting southward. It’s unfortunately getting more common with each summer.” 

Thunderstorms have recently rolled through northern BC and Alberta, sparking several blazes that have yet to be contained. Dry conditions have also contributed to blazes starting up in areas of west central Manitoba and east central Saskatchewan. The means virtually and significant airflow from the north could impact air quality in more southerly parts of the province.  

In these cases, it’s important for people, especially those with respiratory issues, to take whatever actions they can to prevent harm from smoke.  

“We recommend that people take breaks from physical activity,” Moodie says. “If people find they’re having trouble breathing or some irritation, they should see if they can find an area in their community that has some clean cool air. In your home, keep windows and doors closed, and if you have a hepa air purifier, turn it on.” 

For more details on air quality and measures you can take, connect with the Government of Canada page on Wildfire smoke, air quality and your health.