WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The smoke haze that has drifted across Wichita this week may be getting worse. The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has issued an air quality advisory for the Flint Hill region, through Manhattan toward Nebraska.

The smoke is coming from rangeland burning, especially in the Flint Hills. The burning happens annually in March and April as a way for ranchers to preserve the tallgrass prairie ecosystem, control invasive species, and provide better forage for cattle.

The KDHE says its Kansas smoke modeling tool predicts conditions will worsen because of existing smoke combined with weather patterns starting at 10 p.m. Friday through about 10 a.m. Saturday. It also predicts a brief reprieve is possible between noon and 5 p.m. Saturday.

Cumulative Fire Impacts map, April 7, 2023 (Courtesy Kansas Flint Hills Smoke Management)

The Kansas Flint Hills Smoke Management website shows Sedgwick County could get a large amount of smoke on Sunday.

The KDHE said the advisory took effect on Friday and may continue for several days for central and north-central counties in Kansas. It will lift the advisory when conditions improve.

“Because air quality levels can change quickly, we are asking people to remain vigilant,” Doug Watson, meteorologist, said in a news release. “Prescribed burns release large amounts of particulate matter and other pollutants that can form ozone. Particulate matter and ozone can cause health problems, even in healthy individuals.”

Reduced air quality can impact the elderly, children, and people with respiratory issues, pre-existing heart or lung diseases. Some problems include burning eyes, runny nose, coughing and illnesses such as bronchitis.

“All that smoke is staying in the same place. You don’t have a stiff wind to move it out of the way, so that way, it can clear up the air. And if those ingredients are not working in our favor with a stronger wind to help move out that air, then we’re actually going to be breathing in that smoke,” said KSN Chief Meteorologist Lisa Teachman.

Experts say there are ways to protect yourself from the poor air quality.

“If you have to be outside, maybe doing a lot of gardening, yard work, etc. A mask can really help. If you’ve been outside a whole bunch, coming inside, changing clothes, washing hands, or even better, take a shower.”

“If you suffer from any respiratory conditions, emphysema, asthma, it’s always a good idea to stay indoors, keep those windows and those doors closed, maybe even turn on that air conditioning when you see how warm those temperatures will be in the next week,” said KSN Chief Meteorologist Lisa Teachman.

The KDHE suggests people in the smoky areas can take these precautions:

  • Healthy people should limit or avoid strenuous outdoor exercise.
  • More vulnerable people should remain indoors.
  • Help keep indoor air clean by closing doors and windows and running air conditioners with air filters.
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water.
  • Contact their doctor for symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, or severe fatigue.

For more information about the burning in the Flint Hills, the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan, April burn restrictions, and the smoke modeling tool, please click here.