Columbus residents are being urged to use caution as an ‘Air Quality Alert' was issued today, May 18th, due to smoke from Canadian fires making its way into Nebraska.
The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services and the Nebraska Department of Environment and Energy issued the alert for all of the state just before noon on Thursday, May 18th, listing the air-quality index as “moderate to unhealthy.”
Columbus Fire Chief Ryan Gray and City/Platte County Emergency Management Director Tim Hofbauer and Taylor Nicolaisen, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service Office in Valley, all confirmed with the City of Columbus that the alert was due to smoke from the Canadian fires.
The National Weather Service announced the smoke is near the surface, so it will be easily smelled and causes an air impact. Visibility will also be reduced at times, the organization shared.
Nicolaisen told the City of Columbus that he encourages people to limit their time outside throughout Thursday and Friday when possible, particularly those who are sensitive to the conditions.
“I expect it to be a little smokey tomorrow, but improved versus today,” Nicolaisen told the City of Columbus early Thursday afternoon.
The smoke should begin to lift in the atmosphere on Friday and be less apparent as the day progresses, but will still likely result in a smokey haze, NWS shared with the City. The smoke is expected to move into Kansas late Thursday and into early Friday.
“The cleaner air will sweep it out,” Nicolaisen told the City.
Hofbauer shared a similar perspective.
“The National Weather Service expects it to get better about noon tomorrow,” Hofbauer said.
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles produced when wood and other organic materials burn. The biggest health threat from smoke is from fine particles. These microscopic particles can get into your eyes and respiratory system – whether you are outdoors or indoors, where they can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose and illnesses such as bronchitis. Fine particles also can aggravate chronic heart and lung diseases - and even are linked to premature deaths in people with these conditions.
“If you are healthy, you're usually not at a major risk from short-term exposures to smoke,” the organization states. “Still, it's a good idea to avoid breathing smoke – both outdoors and indoors – if you can help it.”