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Smoke expected to clear for weekend

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Friday's hazy sunrise over the Big Sky golf course. PHOTO BY DAVE PECUNIES


It’s not breaking news: Big Sky is shrouded in Canadian smoke.  

After a brief taste of wildfire season, Friday’s forecast from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality predicts clearer skies ahead.  

Nearly 100 wildfires in Alberta have burned a million acres bringing unseasonal smoke to Montana. The Bozeman area has seen intermittent peak-levels of poor air quality since Wednesday, but sensors in Big Sky show the worst air quality arrived on Friday, now reading higher than Bozeman on the air quality index. 

According to the Interagency Wildland Fire Air Quality Response Program’s interactive fire and smoke map, Friday’s air quality in Big Sky is between orange and red— “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and “unhealthy,” respectively. As of 11 a.m. on Friday, sensors along the Highway 64 corridor in Big Sky showed AQI readings between 139 and 158.  

Based on those readings, outdoor visibility currently ranges between 2 and 10 miles—that’s why Lone Mountain currently glows like a distant volcano.  

Between both levels of poor air quality, sensitive groups are advised to move indoors with symptoms. All outdoor recreators should consider limiting activity, moving indoors with any symptoms. Find health recommendations for outdoor recreation here.  

From Big Sky area sensors along the Highway 64 corridor, the median AQI was 155 as of 11 a.m. on May 19. SCREENSHOT FROM FIRE AND SMOKE MAP

However, a May 19 forecast from the Montana DEQ predicts a clearing on Saturday: 

“Enormous wildfires continue to burn over western Canada. A cool front shifted the winds around Montana to the north earlier in the week. The shift in wind direction continues to funnel smoke across much of the state,” the forecast summarizes. Big Sky and Bozeman were not listed as one of the state’s numerous areas under air quality alert.  

On Friday, another wind shift is expected to clear smoke from Montana.  

“The wind protected valleys of western Montana will tend to hold onto the smoke a little longer than the eastern side of the state that should mix out more quickly. By Saturday morning, much of the state should see significant improvements in air quality.” 

During periods of air impact due to wildfire smoke, the DEQ provides daily Montana smoke forecasts on its website.  

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