Could Wildfire Smoke Impact The 2023 Grandma’s Marathon?
Smoke from Canadian wildfires drifted into Northern Minnesota overnight Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, bringing poor air quality into the region only a couple of days away from the events of Grandma's Marathon, with activities scheduled on Friday and Saturday.
The midweek drop in air quality is a reminder of news from earlier this week that the region is bound to see bouts of thick smoke through the summer months and possibly even beyond this year as wildfires continue to rage on in Canada. With that lingering possibility, could smoke play a role in Grandma's Marathon this year? We spoke with officials from the event to see what participants and spectators should know.
Air quality in Northern Minnesota plunged into unhealthy levels on Wednesday, with the Air Quality Index (AQI) reaching above 180 in the morning hours and an air quality alert being issued for Northern Minnesota from Tuesday night all the way through Thursday morning. This is on the higher end of the "unhealthy" part of the EPA's scale, pushing toward "very unhealthy" at times across parts of the region.
Here's a look at that AQI scale, and what each category means:
Now, the good news is that the forecast calls for smoke to subside through the day Thursday with a return to "good" air quality conditions for Friday. As of the time this article was published, that's as far out as air quality forecasts go, but the hope is that the return of better air quality will hang out through the weekend for the marathon on Saturday.
Aside from the noticeable haze and smoky smell, breathing in unhealthy air, especially when being physically active, can lead to lung irritation and other issues. Certainly not good for people participating in running events. This has race coordinators keeping an eye on the forecast.
In talking to Zach Schnieder from Grandma's Marathon, he explained that race officials "continue to monitor the air quality, along with other weather conditions, in the days leading up to the race."
This practice is very similar to instances where excessive heat or severe storms are in the forecast. Organizers work with experts every year to monitor potential weather-related risks, and this year's smoke threat is no different.
Schneider detailed the marathon staff's procedures, saying "Our medical director heads a decision-making group that always plans to meet regularly between now and race day, regardless of the conditions. As of now, the forecast looks promising that the wildfire smoke will be out of our area and won’t affect our event, and we’re hopeful that’s correct."
In looking back through race history, no previous instances of Grandma's Marathon have reported issues with smoke. Here's hoping this year isn't the first.
As of right now, the rest of the weather forecast doesn't present any major concerns for runners or spectators. Temperatures should be cooperative, and while there are some slight chances of rain, no major rain events or severe weather are anticipated right now. You can follow the latest updated forecast here.
Look back at last year's Grandma's Marathon photos: