Smoke from controlled burns in Kansas impacts Nebraska air quality

That acrid smell of smoke in the air across eastern Nebraska on Wednesday signals that the annual prairie grass burning season has begun in Kansas.

The National Weather Service office in Valley on Wednesday issued an alert for the Lincoln area, warning that air quality there may be “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” The air quality from the Kansas border to Omaha and up to Sioux City was listed in the “moderate” range.

The alert was issued in connection with burns conducted by ranchers in the Flint Hills, an 82,000-square-mile area of unplowed tall prairie grass that stretch from eastern Kansas to north-central Oklahoma. According to a Kansas State University report, the region is an important area for grazing cattle.

“In a typical year, ranchers burn thousands of acres of grassland to reduce the abundance of undesirable trees and shrubs while promoting nutritionally rich grass for that summer’s grazing,” the study said.

Winds blowing out of the south at 20 mph, gusting to 30 mph, are carrying the smoke from the prairie fires into Nebraska, said Becky Kern, a weather service meteorologist.

“The wind will be switching directions later this evening and overnight,” Kerns said Wednesday morning. “The wind will be coming from out of the northwest tonight, so that will improve the air quality index.”

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