Brainerd lakes area residents should be able to breathe easy this year

Lack of drought conditions in most of Minnesota is expected to alleviate air quality issues.

In this 2021 file photo, a red sun caused by smoky haze sets behind the historic Brainerd water tower.
Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

BRAINERD — As far as air quality is concerned, 2022 was a quiet year in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency expects more of the same for 2023, largely due to improved drought conditions across the state.

Matt Taraldsen, supervisor and meteorologist for the Risk Evaluation and Air Modeling Unit for the MPCA, recently presented information on ozone, drought, and wildfire forecasts for the state.

Taraldsen noted in 2022 there were no air quality alerts issued, unlike in 2021 when smoke from wildfires created a ground-level haze over Minnesota — including the Brainerd lakes area — on several occasions.

“And we were concerned about the ongoing drought situation here in Minnesota (in 2022) and what might happen. Well what ends up happening in 2022 … was nothing,” Taraldsen said. “We went from 2021, which is our worst air quality season, to 2022, which was our best air quality season.”


The difference, Taraldsen said, was that wildfires last year were far enough away that by the time the smoke from them got to Minnesota it was elevated into the atmosphere.

“That was frankly just luck of meteorology. The conditions were there and it was something we were monitoring very closely for the entire summer,” he said.

Drought conditions dramatically improved across the state, Taraldsen said, which will create lower air quality impacts. There is an overall average risk this summer, with one to three air quality alert days expected. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center forecasts:

  • Summer temperatures (June-August) are expected to be statistically average.
  • Drought conditions include one area of moderate drought in southwestern Minnesota, and abnormally dry conditions across western Minnesota. This is significantly improved from November 2022, when most of the state was under some degree of drought warning, ranging from abnormally dry to extreme drought.
  • Areas most likely to see ozone impacts are Twin Cities suburbs and areas near Rochester.

“With the phenomenal amount of snow we've had this season, record breaking in some parts of the state, that drought has basically been eroded away to abnormally dry conditions across western Minnesota and then some moderate drought and far southern Minnesota,” Taraldsen said.
That includes the counties surrounding the Brainerd lakes area, where the only drought situation listed is abnormally dry conditions in western Cass, Todd and Wadena counties. For Aitkin, eastern Cass, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs and Morrison counties, no drought conditions existed at the end of April.

And with the exception of May — which has already featured elevated wildfire conditions and red flag warnings — and June while vegetation green-up continues, there is overall low risk for wildfire impacts in Minnesota for 2023, according to the NOAA Climate Prediction Center and the National Interagency Fire Center.

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However, Taraldsen also noted the transition from a La Nina to an El Nino climate pattern makes forecasting several months ahead difficult.

While the record snowfall will help going forward, Taraldsen noted in January the abundance of snow actually led to a significant air quality event for parts of the state, including much of central Minnesota, for about two weeks. The wet, heavy snow on the ground and stuck to trees moistened the boundary layer in the atmosphere, causing a stagnation event — the worst since 2005, he said.

“We were kind of with a kind of strange meteorological event,” Taraldsen said.


A map showing the fire danger in Minnesota.
Contributed / Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

The fire danger Friday in central Minnesota — including Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Mille Lacs, Morrison, Todd and Wadena counties — was listed as high, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources increased burning restrictions in most of the area to burning with a variance permit only.

The MPCA also announced a new online air quality index tool that offers more comprehensive information on air quality conditions for the entire state. This tool will be available on the MPCA website starting in June and will provide information on a region’s primary pollutant, predicted fine particles, and forecasted ozone. This new resource gives Minnesotans a clearer understanding of their region's daily air quality, as it provides easily accessible and understandable data.

MATT ERICKSON, Editor, may be reached at or 218-855-5857.

Matt Erickson joined the Brainerd Dispatch in 2000 as a reporter, covering crime and courts and the city of Brainerd. In 2012 he was promoted to night editor and in 2014 was promoted to editor of the newspaper.
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