Giant Fire Clouds Over California

By Tom Yulsman | August 6, 2014 1:21 am
A developing pyrocumulus cloud above the Oregon Gulch fire, part of the Beaver Complex fire. Photographed from an Oregon Air National Guard F-15C fighter jet by James Haseltine on July 31, 2014, at 8:20 PM Pacific Daylight Time. (Source: Nasa Earth Observatory)

A developing pyrocumulus cloud above the Oregon Gulch fire, part of the Beaver Complex fire. Photographed from an Oregon Air National Guard F-15C fighter jet by James Haseltine on July 31, 2014, at 8:20 PM Pacific Daylight Time. (Photo: James Haseltine via NASA Earth Observatory)

On Sunday, I posted satellite images of massive fire clouds billowing from wildfires raging along the California-Oregon border.

On Tuesday, NASA’s Earth Observatory weighed in with more details, as well as spectacular photographs taken on the evening of July 31 by James Haseltine from an Oregon Air National Guard F-15C fighter jet — including the one above.

And this one too:

Another photograph of a gargantuan pyrocumulus cloud as seen from an F-15C fighter jet on July 31, 2014. (Photo: By James Haseltine, via NASA Earth Observatory)

A gargantuan pyrocumulus cloud, as seen from an F-15C fighter jet on July 31, 2014. (Photo: James Haseltine, via NASA Earth Observatory)

Rising air currents over wildfires can carry water vapor high into the atmosphere, causing it to cool and condense. If enough water vapor is present and conditions are right, the result can be giant fire clouds, known scientifically as pyrocumulus clouds. These images show what they look like.

fire cloud

A map of smoke over North America on Aug. 4, based on data from the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite (OMPS) on the Suomi NPP satellite. (Source: NASA OMPS blog)

The same rising air currents that cause pyrocumulus clouds to form can also propel smoke particles high into the atmosphere. From there, winds can carry these particles far afield. The image above, from the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite, or OMPS, on the Suomi NPP satellite, maps the spread of smoke on August 4th across a large portion of North America from the fires in California and Oregon, as well as wildfires still blazing in Canada.

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ImaGeo

ImaGeo is a visual blog focusing on the intersection of imagery, imagination and Earth. It focuses on spectacular visuals related to the science of our planet, with an emphasis (although not an exclusive one) on the unfolding Anthropocene Epoch.

About Tom Yulsman

Tom Yulsman is Director of the Center for Environmental Journalism and a Professor of Journalism at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He also continues to work as a science and environmental journalist with more than 30 years of experience producing content for major publications. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, Audubon, Climate Central, Columbia Journalism Review, Discover, Nieman Reports, and many other publications. He has held a variety of editorial positions over the years, including a stint as editor-in-chief of Earth magazine. Yulsman has written one book: Origins: the Quest for Our Cosmic Roots, published by the Institute of Physics in 2003.

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