BWCA Air quality concerns for last week of August in Saganaga area? Boundary Waters Trip Planning Forum
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senior member (62)senior membersenior member
07/26/2021 09:34AM  
Months ago we got our permit and made our plans for the last week in August, entering with a tow from EP55 through Saganaga to Red Rock Bay. We (four old guys, 60's to early 70's, in good shape) plan to make a loop through Alpine, Ogish, SAK, Hanson, Ester, etc, ending with a tow from American Point back on Sag.

I've been following the fire & air quality situation closely for weeks, checking all the available resources daily (forums, infrared satellite imagery, SNF announcements, Ontario fire maps, MN air quality reports, etc.). It'll be a 2,600 mile round trip for us to get there, so we want to have good chances of a positive outcome before we leave home. Within the next few days I have to make a go/no-go decision on this trip (to give us time to switch to another destination).

The biggest concern right now is air quality. I have mild asthma. I've never had a full blown asthmatic attack. I don't take any daily medications for it. I do
keep rescue inhalers around, and use them on the rare occasion my lungs start feeling tight.

The quandary has been that the air quality index for the Saganaga area has been pretty good, especially considering the number of fires in Ontario. As of today, the air quality is in the green. But it seems that all it would take would be a shift in wind direction to change that drastically.

If you have any recent experience with the area, or any other thoughts on this, I'd certainly love to hear them.
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distinguished member (425)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
07/26/2021 10:24AM  
I enter on Friday of this week at Moose Lake and we’re going up into Knife Lake, and Ottertrack looping back. My wife has mild asthma and will bring some extra inhalers on this trip in case. We’re doing 8 days so I couldn’t give you an opinion until we come out. We did have a horrible day here in Minneapolis area about a week ago. It has been way better since then though her in Minneapolis area. That was due to all the fires out west and up in Canada though.

07/26/2021 05:26PM  
I've been doing the same pondering for a late August entry. You might want to check out this website although maybe it is one of the ones you have been looking at: It gives the latest PM2.5 levels (the bad stuff) & you can compare to what you are seeing in your home area. I never thought I'd even think about taking a mask to the BW but this year I am - not for Covid but for the PM2.5. N95's will work to keep that out of your lungs & might be a good precaution if the levels seem to rise (real hazy & smoky) especially for those with lung or heart conditions.
senior member (62)senior membersenior member
07/26/2021 06:06PM  
davidsos: "...check"

Thanks, that's one of the sites I've been monitoring. It's a great resource.

The air quality index has been reading about the same here at home as it has in the upper Gunflint area -- despite the fact there are no wildfires anywhere near my home. That has to be because wind patterns are keeping the bulk of the Quetico wildfire smoke away from the BW (?).

If I could have any small bit of confidence that the current pattern will hold, then I would say the trip is a go. But if a shift of the wind is all it will take to make the trip a bust, then it's better to make the no-go call.

Does anyone have any insight (or links to helpful resources) on the probability of the current wind pattern holding through August?
distinguished member(2433)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
07/26/2021 07:48PM  
Over a month out? It's anyone's guess. Long range forecasting just isn't that good. They are saying the trend is for warm and dry, but that is just a trend, and even that is just a probability that is somewhat better than even odds. It doesn't mean we couldn't have a unexpected dousing of 2 or 3 inches which would put all the fires out, at least the nearby ones in Ontario. It has happened before. You just don't know.

I have a trip planned for mid August, and I'm just going to see as it gets closer. I have a plan b ready.

senior member (62)senior membersenior member
07/27/2021 10:36AM  
marsonite: "Over a month out? It's anyone's guess. Long range forecasting just isn't that good...."
I understand that. I'm not expecting anyone (even weather professionals) to provide an accurate detailed weather forecast for the end of August.

What I'm looking for is some local expertise on the wind patterns. Here at home our weather pretty much always comes out of the W/NW, unless there is a big storm in the gulf of Mexico that disrupts the normal pattern.

Gauging by the direction of spread of the the Quetico fires, and the relatively good air quality in the Gunflint area despite large wildfires nearby, it looks like the wind has been blowing from the S/SE? Is that the normal pattern? If not, has anyone heard anything about when the pattern might change?
distinguished member(2651)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
07/27/2021 12:58PM  
Wind/weather generally flows from the west, as does the smoke. Whether or not you have issues depends more on the fires in the western US and Canada than anything else. If seasonal patterns are followed it is more likely that the situation gets worse (peak fire season is August into early fall).
member (33)member
07/27/2021 01:08PM  
Can't speak to weather patterns but I just got off Saganaga today, entered on Saturday and stayed at Voyageurs on Friday night. We had west wind until yesterday (Monday) and those days were clear of smoke. Woke up Monday morning and you could smell the smoke from the fires even though there was no wind (not sure what it did overnight). Cleared out by mid day and then we had quite a bit of rain.

No one in our group was sensitive to the smoke but really only had one morning where it was noticable.
distinguished member (425)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
07/29/2021 06:18PM  
Up in Ely now and smoke isn’t an issue at all here right now. We had way more haze and smoke near Minneapolis coming North this morning.
senior member (100)senior membersenior member
08/11/2021 01:59PM  
I am interested in the same issue before our mid September trip. I asked a friend who knows a lot about wildfire behavior and meteorology about factors to look for if the fires persist. A major issue is the difference between surface and high level winds. Large fires that affect air quality hundreds or a thousand miles away send enormous amounts of particulate into the upper atmosphere to be dropped far away. These winds, the jet stream, move faster and in different directions than surface winds. Poor air quality affecting a person's breathing in canoe country may be coming in from Western US and Canadian fires. You mostly won't smell smoke.

Surface winds can carry smoke for a shorter but still significant distance depending on the weather. They carry it in the local "winds out of the" direction. These conditions can get bad or better much more quickly. They can still affect breathing a significant distance from the fire, 200 miles or more, depending on the air mass, pressure and upper level weather above. You are more likely to smell smoke or be in outright smoky conditions. This is all affected by other factors such as the fire size and how much uplift is moving the smoke from low to high levels before it goes very far laterally. With closer fires, I plan to use a weather radio and look at multiday wind forecasts (e.g., NWS Hourly Weather Forecast Graph for Ely) just before the trip.
distinguished member(1600)distinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished memberdistinguished member
08/11/2021 06:27PM  
You are in a tough situation. The smoke/haze levels have been quite variable. However, that being said, staying toward Saganaga as you plan definitely had the better air quality when we were up there the end of July. The farther west we went, the worse it got. I would recommend a conversation with your regular doctor to see if they have any concerns given your mild asthma and whether they recommend any precautions (N95 mask or carrying an emergency inhaler).
senior member (62)senior membersenior member
08/11/2021 08:11PM  
Thanks for all the input.

I cancelled our BW trip. It was just too much of a crap shoot, being that all it would take would be a change in wind direction to possibly cut our trip short (or worse yet, cause us to bail after we made the long drive there, but before hitting the water).

To go on the trip would sort of be running an experiment to see if a week of 24hr exposure to poor air would give me my first full blown asthmatic attack. Not smart, especially in a backcountry setting.

Another reason we cancelled is that it's just not a good year: low water, campfire ban, chance of permit cancellation due to more fires popping up, etc. When I go to the BW I want to enjoy fresh fish smoked over a campfire. When I go to see a waterfall I want to see a waterfall, not a sad trickle.

We're instead going to the lower section of the Buffalo National River for this year's trip. It's going to be warm, but we're already acclimated to that.
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