Interior Alaska breathes clean air in drastic comparison to smoke based pollution in 2022

Published: Jul. 14, 2023 at 11:10 AM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Alaska is experiencing a summer with a lot less pollution and far bluer skies compared to 2022 when fires blazed the land and filled the sky with dense smoke.

As wildfires in Canada have ravaged the land, seas of smoke have developed throughout the U.S. and Canada. The sights seen in states like New York or provinces such as Quebec, where early fires produced a darkened sky and polluted air, may seem similar to the images Alaskans have come to know in the summer.

A reflective example of those smoke darkened skies was in 2022, when Alaska witnessed over 3 million acres burn up in wildfires. The massive quantity of scorched land, along with the large fires around the interior, produced dense and dangerous levels of smoke pollution. The level of smoke in the interior was certainly an issue for those with conditions such as asthma, but the general populace was also at risk. So, far this summer, Interior Alaska has had “beautiful” air quality conditions, “compared to last year when it was kind of dangerous to go outside without a mask,” said Bobby Bianco, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

In 2022, Fairbanks and other locations around the interior suffered from “hazardous” air quality conditions, as calculated by the air quality index or AQI. The AQI is a tool that measures air pollution in a similar manor to a thermometer. As pollution increase, so does the AQI level. Last summer was so bad that on multiple occasions, the AQI numbers were beyond hazardous. “We were at 1 mile even a quarter mile smoke at times,” for visibility, Bianco said. “Our air quality indices, which are typically at 0-50 for a normal day, they were in the 600′s-700′s at times last year.”

The AQI ranges from 0-50 for healthy air and 50-100 for moderate air. Over 100, the air can be too polluted for sensitive groups of people, but over 150, the air starts to be a problem for almost everyone. By the time the AQI reaches 300, everyone will likely face health impacts, regardless of whether or not an individual notices any changes. An AQI of 300 is also the level at which air is considered hazardous, but that officially only goes up 500 on most AQI scales.

This means that last year, the interior likely faced some of the worst air conditions possible.