Looking into downtown Calgary from the Centre street as the city skyline fills with smoke from the wildfires burning in northern Alberta, the city registered a 10+ on the Air Quality Health Index, considered a very high risk.
Calgarians fearing another summer lost to stinging eyes and choking haze needn’t despair, according to an Ottawa-based weather historian.
At least not yet.
After several smoky days this week left locals wondering if the city might eclipse last year’s record-smashing mark of 450 hours of smog-shrouded skies, the haze had mostly burned off on Saturday.
Weather historian Rolf Campbell, who operates the YYC Weather Records Twitter account, said while the wildfires scorching northern Alberta have already contributed to the city’s smokiest year prior to June in nearly four decades, that doesn’t necessarily mean gas masks should join shorts and sandals as requisite summer style.
“Nobody can predict the future, including me,” Campbell said.
“There have been plenty of years where there’s lots of smoke early and the summer was fine. It all depends on prevailing winds.”
On Friday, heavy smoke blanketed the city, reaching an air quality index rating of 306, easily putting it ahead of perennially polluted cities like Delhi and Beijing.
The extreme risk prompted a special air quality statement, with officials warning of the potential for coughing, throat irritation, headaches and shortness of breath and led the city to cancel all scheduled outdoor events. Particularly at risk from the smoky conditions are children, seniors and those with cardiovascular or lung disease.
By Saturday, Calgary’s air quality health index had dropped to four from Friday’s dangerous peak of 10+, though that is still considered a moderate risk. The same rating, set by Environment Canada, is forecasted for Sunday.
According to Campbell, through Saturday afternoon, the city had experienced 62 hours of smoky skies so far this year, a significant mark but well short of the all-time record of 232 hours of haze prior to June 1 set a half-century ago.
Campbell noted despite 2018 being the smokiest Calgary has seen since records started being kept in 1953, by this time last year the city had only seen five hours of smoke coverage. Last year’s overall record surpassed the previous high-water mark of 315 hours of haze, set in 2017.
According to Environment Canada, several days of clear, sunny skies are in the forecast, with highs in the 20s before gradually getting cooler by Wednesday with showers expected to go into the weekend.
On Twitter: @ShawnLogan403