Drought, Air Quality Alert: Living in the Upper Midwest


Well, no. Not really. Although that’d make a dandy headline. On the other hand, maybe it’s too obviously overblown.

'FBI Captures Bat Child' Weekly World News headline. (1992?)Maybe there’s a fine line between headlines that grab attention without inspiring thought and those destined for supermarket checkout lines. Or maybe it’s more a matter of style and content.

And that’s another topic, for another day.

At any rate, wildfires in two Canadian provinces, Ontario and Manitoba, triggered an Air Quality Alert for my part of Minnesota.

That’s because forecasters said smoke from the wildfires would come down on Wisconsin and spread into Minnesota.

“Air Quality Alert…

“… Including the tribal nations of Mille Lacs, Prairie Island, and Upper Sioux … 1236 PM CDT Tue Jul 20 2021…

“…WHERE…Central and South Central Minnesota.”WHEN…Through 6 AM CDT Thursday.

“IMPACTS…Sensitive groups, such as people with lung disease (including asthma), heart disease, and children and older adults, may experience health effects.

“ADDITIONAL DETAILS…Smoke from wildfires in Ontario and Manitoba is expected to mix down to the ground over northern Wisconsin and move into central and southeast Minnesota this afternoon. …


“Sensitive groups, such as people with lung disease (including asthma), heart disease, and children and older adults, should limit prolonged or heavy exertion….


Which is what it did, Tuesday evening.

“Smoke Gets in Your Eyes,” Nose and Throat

(From National Weather Service, used w/o permission.)
(Sauk Center, Minnesota, weather. (July 20, 2021))

Our problem was “fine particle levels” in the Orange AQI category.

“Fine particle levels?” “Orange AQI?”

I’d known that smoke looks smoky because of the fine particles in it. Except for smoke that includes a colorful gas, which ours didn’t.

Air Quality Index: Quantifying Smoke and Gas

United States Air Quality Index (AQI) chart.But AQI was new to me.

So I did a little digging, found out that AQI stands for Air Quality Index, and learned where the AQI numbers come from.

The numbers are what what we get when concentrations of ozone, two sizes of tiny particles, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide are run through an equation.

It’s on a scale of zero to 500, with zero to 50 being green, 100 to 150 being orange. 301 to 500 is maroon, which is really, really bad.1

AQI and a “Sensitive Groups” Household

My desktop's lower right display. (July 21, 2021))My desktop weather thingamajig’s AQI number went up to around 183 a few times Tuesday evening. It was lower Wednesday, but still in the orange zone. AQI 183 is in the red zone, which is unhealthy for pretty much everyone.

I’m an “older adult” and the rest of this household have asthma-related issues. So we haven’t been having fun this week.

Even so, it could have been worse. We could have been driving somewhere.

“Special Weather Statement
National Weather Service Twin Cities/Chanhassen MN
855 PM CDT Tue Jul 20 2021…


“Wildfire smoke has reduced visibilities to between 1 and 4 miles from central and eastern Minnesota into Wisconsin. Some areas across central Minnesota could experience visibilities less than one mile overnight. Across southwestern Minnesota, visibilities may deteriorate to between 3 and 5 miles later this evening….


Maybe saying that this week’s hazy air is a potpourri of peripatetic particulates would have helped me sneeze less. Then again, maybe not. Probably not.

Either way, a golden oldie has been on my mind’s playlist this week:

“…So I smile and say
When a lovely flame dies
Smoke gets in your eyes….”
(“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes;” Jerome Kern, Otto Harbach (1933) via AZLyrics)

July Shower, Summer Drought

(From Drought.gov, used w/o permission.)
(Drought in Minnesota. (July 20, 2021))

Minnesota drought conditions. (July 13, 2021)We got a (very) little rain Thursday morning, when a line of diminutive thunderstorms stumbled through my part of Minnesota.

I enjoyed the subdued rumblings, and welcomed the temporarily unhazy air.

But I’d be astounded if the morning sprinkle eased our drought by much.

More of Minnesota is experiencing “extreme drought” conditions this week, and several formerly “moderate drought” counties are now in the severe area.

We’re not having a good growing season.

But, again, it could be worse.

This Year’s Rain: Exceptional!

(From Drought.gov, used w/o permission.)
(U.S. Drought Monitor. (July 20, 2021))

We could be living in California.

Other parts of the American southwest are also dealing with “exceptional drought,” but it’s mostly the Golden State’s dire circumstances I see in headlines.

Whether that’s because folks in Nevada deal with inclement weather more effectively, or editors regard California as more newsworthy, or I’ve been looking at California-themed news feeds — that, I don’t know.

Maybe it’s a bit of ‘all of the above.’

At any rate, this has been a very dry year for a great many folks.

And a hot one. Which isn’t good news for folks living in Minnesota’s Metro area this weekend. Or here in Sauk Centre, for that matter.

Sun, Rain and Neighbors

18th century engraving by an unknown artist, '...Wherein Rear Admiral Beaumont was lost on the Goodwin Sands....'So, what’s the moral of this drought?

And, for that matter, is there a moral to Europe’s excess rain? Assuming that recent headlines reflect actual conditions there.

In my considered opinion, this year’s weather means that my part of the world has been getting less rain than usual.

And that parts of Europe have been getting more. Also that this isn’t going be be a good year in the Napa Valley.

I’m pretty sure this isn’t a ‘wrath of God’ scenario. I still see that sort of moralizing — very rarely, and not in the mainstream. Not the Bible-thumping variety. Then again, there’s the occasional ‘wrath of Mother Nature’ declaration, and that’s yet another topic.

In any case: rain or shine, good crops or otherwise, I figure Jesus is right. The sun rises and rain comes — or doesn’t come — to all of us. What matters is how we act.

“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you,
“that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.”
(Matthew 5:4445)

Love, Neighbors and Me

Rembrandt's 'Christ and the woman taken in adultery' drawing. (ca. 1639-41)How I act depends partly on who I think is “us,” and who I think is “them.”

Since I’m a Catholic, sorting out “us” and “them” is simple: and incredibly difficult.

Because I’m a Catholic, I should love God and my neighbors — and see everybody as my neighbor. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640; Mark 12:2831; Luke 6:31, 10:2537; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1706, 1776, 1789, 1825, 1849-1851, 1955)

I’ve said that before. A lot. In large part because I think it’s important, and a point that sometimes gets lost in the bedlam that passes for discussion these days. And those days, for that matter, and that’s yet again another topic.

Catechism references start with The Dignity of the Human Person. About that: the online resource I’d been using changed its access rules, so links in my older stuff don’t work.

The link I posted here takes you to a flip-book online copy: not my favorite format, but your experience may vary.

Vaccination Progress

My COVID-19 Vaccination Record Card. (June 11, 2021)This household has been 100% vaccinated against COVID-19 since Friday.

I’ll see that as good news, although I’d much rather skip the week or so of recovery that our fourth vaccinee will likely endure.

Vaccinee? As it turns out, that’s a ‘dictionary’ word. Who knew?

Our latest ‘got both shots’ family member is number-three daughter; a tad older than our son, distinctly younger than me and my wife.

How emphatic the vaccine’s side effects will be remains to be seen.

The same goes with whether and how soon we’ll want follow-up vaccinations. And how effective current vaccines are against COVID-19 variants. But that, and how we’ll be dealing with this particular unpleasant reality, remains to be seen.

Between this summer’s drought, the COVID-19 pandemic and a smorgasbord of health issues predating both, this has been an — interesting — year.

Small wonder I’m feeling a little bothered.

Oh, well. At least my life hasn’t been boring. Now, as usual, links to more of my stuff; which I think relate to what I’ve been saying. More or less:

1 Smoke and measurements:

About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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