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Are smoky summer skies the new normal?

Wildfires from the western U.S. and Canada have filled the sky with smoke over the past several weeks.

DES MOINES, Iowa — The saying "out of the clear blue sky" might need a summertime adjustment to "out of the clear white sky".

Smoke has consistently hovered over Iowa and much of the country this month due to large wildfires in the western United States and Canada.

Those particularly sensitive to air pollution may experience minor issues. For most Iowans, this is nothing more than a visual oddity.

Wildfire smoke turns the sky milky white during the day and unusually colorful at sunrise and sunset.

RELATED: Get the latest forecast from Local 5

Exceptional drought and record-setting heat waves have plagued the western U.S. this summer, setting the stage for an active wildfire season.

The largest U.S. wildfire this year is the Bootleg Fire in southern Oregon, which has burned over 360,000 acres and was 30 percent contained on Tuesday.

Wildfires have burned over 2.5 million acres nationwide so far this year. That is 24.2% lower than this point in 2020. 

2020 ended up ranking second behind 2015 for most U.S. acres burned on record in a given year. 

Credit: WOI
The amount of U.S. land burned by wildfires has grown over the past 30 years.

Federal agencies began tracking official wildfire information in 1983. From 1983 to 2003, no more than eight million acres burned in any given year. Since then, that number has been reached in ten of the past seventeen years.

Chances are wildfire numbers will remain high until drought conditions improve. That means a continuous threat to life and property out west, and more smoky summer skies for the rest of the United States.

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