Researchers flying over wildfire detected 130 mph updrafts in smoke plume

And, downdrafts reaching 65 mph

Pioneer Fire
Smoke plume with pyrocumulus over the Pioneer Fire, posted on Inciweb August 29, 2016.

Researchers flying near smoke plumes over a large wildfire found extreme updrafts up to 130 mph and downdrafts reaching 65 mph. Operating radar and other sensing equipment in a small plane, one of the scientists was injured as the aircraft experienced a dramatic vertical displacement as it penetrated a 34-meters-per-second updraft in a plume over a flank of the 2016 Pioneer Fire in Idaho.

This is the first time the vertical velocity structure of a pyroconvective updraft has been viewed in such detail. The research showed that intense fires can produce updrafts that rival or exceed those in tornadic supercell thunderstorms.

An unexpected finding was that the updrafts strengthened with height above the surface, at least initially, challenging the assumption that they should decelerate with height.

The updrafts, the strongest ever documented, can be a hazard to aviation since they do not always show up on pilots’ weather avoidance radars, as discovered during a Qantas flight over a bush fire in Australia in January, 2020. Passengers experienced turbulence and darkness as the airliner entered the pyrocumulus cloud.

"There was one guy sort of swearing … I heard people down the front vomiting."

Another passenger said it was "the scariest flight" she had taken.
smoke plume research convection column pyrocumulus
Overview of the PyroCb topped plume rising from the Pioneer Fire on 29 August 2016. (a) Map showing the fire perimeters, flight legs, locations of photos (triangle markers), terrain (hillshaded), and KCBX radar‐derived plume “echo top” heights (color shaded). (b) KCBX echo top time series showing rapid plume growth and the flight interval (red shaded). (c) Time mean KCBX radar reflectivity during the flight interval with head and flanking fire plumes annotated. (d) Photograph from the Boise National Forest at ~00 UTC 30 August 2016 showing the head fire plume and the transition from the ash‐filled lower plume to the pyroCb aloft. (from the research)

These findings are presented in a paper published September 9, 2020 written by B. Rodriguez, N. P. Lareau, D. E. Kingsmill, and C. B. Clements.

Convection column Pioneer Fire
Convection column with pyrocumulus over the Pioneer Fire, August 30, 2016. Photo by Nick Guy of the University of Wyoming.

Stunning photos of pyrocumulus clouds over the Claremont-Bear Fire

Northern California

Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020
Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020. By Lori Mallory Eckhart.

Lori Mallory Eckhart took these remarkable photos of the Claremont-Bear Fire September 8, 2020, the day it made a massive run west to Oroville, California increasing in size by more than 100,000 acres in 24 hours. The camera she used was a Nikon D7100 with an f/3.5-6.3  18-300 mm lens.

The Claremont and Bear Fires burned together and are now managed as part of the 252,000-acre North Complex organization.

The white cloud above the smoke is a pyrocumulus cloud produced by the intense heating of the air over a fire. This induces convection, which causes the air mass to rise to a point of stability, where condensation occurs. If the fire is large enough, the cloud may continue to grow, becoming a cumulonimbus flammagenitus which may produce lightning and start another fire.

Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020
Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020. By Lori Mallory Eckhart.
Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020
Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020. By Lori Mallory Eckhart.
Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020
Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020. By Lori Mallory Eckhart.
Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020
Claremont-Bear Fire, Sept. 8 ,2020. By Lori Mallory Eckhart.

Stunning photos of pyrocumulus over fires in Australia

They were taken on a flight from Canberra to Melbourne

smoke pyrocumulus bushfires Australia
Photo of smoke from bushfires by Merrin Macleod on a flight from Canberra to Melbourne, posted January 4, 2020.

While on a flight from Canberra to Melbourne Merrin Macleod had an excellent view of pyrocumulus clouds over very active bushfires. She said on Twitter, “The country looks like ten or fifteen volcanoes have gone off.”

If the pilot had taken the most direct route to Melbourne they would have flown over many very active fires. The photos are used here with her permission.

Satellite photo smoke Australia fires
Satellite photo of smoke from fires in New South Wales and Victoria December 3, 2020. The red areas represent heat. NASA image processed by Wildfire Today.

Below is actual flight path for her 50-minute flight. About 16 minutes after takeoff the aircraft was 36,000 feet over the NSW/Victoria border.

flight path from Canberra to Melbourne
The actual flight path from Canberra to Melbourne. Flightaware.
smoke pyrocumulus bushfires Australia
Photo of smoke from bushfires by Merrin Macleod on a flight from Canberra to Melbourne, posted January 4, 2020.

A pyrocumulus cloud is produced by the intense heating of the air over a fire. This induces convection, which causes the air mass to rise to a point of stability, where condensation occurs. If the fire is large enough, the cloud may continue to grow, becoming a cumulonimbus flammagenitus which may produce lightning and start another fire.

smoke pyrocumulus bushfires Australia
Photo of smoke from bushfires by Merrin Macleod on a flight from Canberra to Melbourne, posted January 4, 2020.
smoke pyrocumulus bushfires Australia
Photo of smoke from bushfires by Merrin Macleod on a flight from Canberra to Melbourne, posted January 4, 2020.
smoke pyrocumulus bushfires Australia
Photo of smoke from bushfires by Merrin Macleod on a flight from Canberra to Melbourne, posted January 4, 2020.
smoke pyrocumulus bushfires Australia
Photo of smoke from bushfires by Merrin Macleod on a flight from Canberra to Melbourne, posted January 4, 2020.


More articles on Wildfire Today tagged “Pyrocumulus”.

Flying through a pyrocumulonimbus cloud

NASA Earth Observatory image Williams Flats Fire
NASA Earth Observatory image of the Williams Flats Fire by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey.

(This article first appeared at earthobservatory.nasa.gov)

Atmospheric scientists regularly take note when satellites detect thunderheads rising above columns of wildfire smoke. These “fire clouds”—experts call them pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) or cumulonimbus flammagenitus—are caused when fires loft enough heat and moisture into the atmosphere to produce thunderstorms.

On August 8, 2019, a team of atmospheric scientists got an exceedingly rare look at these clouds as they were forming. NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory passed directly through a large pyrocumulonimbus that day as it was rising from a fire in eastern Washington. The flight was part of a joint NOAA and NASA field campaign called FIREX-AQ. Scientists are studying the composition and chemistry of smoke to better understand its impact on air quality and climate.

Williams Flats Fire
August 8 photo by David Peterson (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory).

David Peterson, lead forecaster for FIREX-AQ, was in the cockpit of NASA’s DC-8. “The views were absolutely stunning,” said Peterson. “Very few photographs of large pyroCbs are available, especially from the air.”

The photograph above, shot from roughly 30,000 feet (9 kilometers), shows the setting Sun shining through thick smoke at 8 p.m. Mountain Time. Particles in the smoke reflect light in ways that make the Sun appear orange. The photograph below shows the smoke plume (gray) that fed the pyrocumulonimbus cloud (white).

The flight was the most detailed sampling of a pyrocumulonimbus in history, explained Peterson. A second research aircraft flew over the plume a few hours earlier in the day, and mobile labs on the ground also made detailed measurements.

Williams Flats Fire
August 8 photo by David Peterson (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory).

“PyroCb are like large chimneys, transporting a large quantity of smoke into the lower stratosphere,” explained Peterson.

When smoke does reach the stratosphere, it tends to spread globally and remain high in the atmosphere for longer periods—months or even years—than smoke that stays in the lower troposphere. One recent study concluded that the largest fire clouds can even lift quantities of smoke aerosols into the lower stratosphere that are comparable to a moderate-sized volcanic eruption.

An early morning thunderstorm ignited the Williams Flats Fire on August 2, 2019. The Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired a natural-color image of the blaze (at the top of the page) as it approached the north bank of the Columbia River on August 7, 2019. The image is natural color (OLI bands 4-3-2), overlaid with the infrared and shortwave infrared signature of actively burning fires.

Story by Adam Voiland of NASA Earth Observatory.

Goose Fire burning from Nevada toward Idaho

Little Goos Fire map
Map showing the location of the Little Goose Fire in Northeast Nevada at 1:36 p.m. MDT August 5, 2019.

A fire that was reported at 6:23 p.m. Sunday August 4 in the Northeast corner of Nevada has been burning vigorously on Monday. Heat detected by a satellite at 1:36 p.m. (see map above) showed it to be moving north and had spread to within a mile of the Nevada/Idaho border. In later satellite photos it appeared to have approached the border and was generating pyrocumulus clouds. By the time you read this there is a good chance it will have burned into Idaho.

The BLM reported at about 6 p.m. Monday that it was a full suppression fire and had burned 3,500 acres.

At various times it was called “Goose Fire” and “Little Goose Fire”. Just plain “Goose Fire” seemed to be winning out by late Monday afternoon.

At about 4:40 p.m. MDT FlightRadar showed four single engine air tankers from Twin Falls and Tanker 911, a DC-10 from Pocatello, flying in the vicinity of the Goose Fire. A NOAA research Twin Otter also showed up, flying a grid pattern — NOAA46 (N46RF), that was most likely analyzing the atmosphere over the fire. NOAA has a fleet of nine aircraft that conduct airborne environmental data gathering missions. Later after the first NOAA Twin Otter departed, another NOAA Twin Otter was over the fire, NOAA48.

Little Goose Fire map aircraft
Map showing aircraft near the Little Goose Fire in Northeast Nevada at 5:37 p.m. PDT August 5, 2019. NOAA46 (N46RF)

Woodbury Fire in Arizona adds another 4,000 acres

The fire is 12 miles east of the Phoenix suburbs

satellite photo Woodbury Fire Phoenix Arizona
Satellite photo of smoke from the Woodbury Fire east of Phoenix, Arizona at 7:31 p.m. MDT, June 18, 2019.

(To see all articles on Wildfire Today, including the most recent, click HERE.)

The Woodbury Fire 12 miles east of the Phoenix suburbs became very active on the northeast side Tuesday beginning at about 2 p.m., sending up another large column of smoke that blew off to the northeast. It added another 3,894 acres to bring the total up to 44,451 acres.

Tanker 101 tanker 914 Woodbury Fire phoenix
The convection column at the Woodbury Fire shows the beginning of condensation at the top, becoming a pyrocumulus cloud. Tanker 914, a DC-10 is in the foreground, with Tanker 101, an MD87. Photo taken at Phoenix Gateway Airport at 3:18 p.m. MST June 18, 2019. Photo by Ty Miller.

On Wednesday fire crews are preparing for the possibility of the fire moving north towards Roosevelt and east towards the Pinto Mine along Pinto Canyon. Firefighters will be using burnouts and existing black lines to divert fire from the Reavis Ranch, Roosevelt, and mining operations. They will continue the preparations along 500 KV power lines to make them more defensible, masticating brush and building bulldozer lines where appropriate.

Map of the perimeter Woodbury Fire Phoenix Arizona
Map of the perimeter of the Woodbury Fire at 10:41 p.m. MST June 18, 2019.

The smoke is expected to spread to the east on Saturday, becoming noticeable in Southern New Mexico and Western Texas.

wildfire smoke forecast June 19, 2019
The smoke from the Woodbury Fire is expected to blow off to the east on Wednesday into Southern New Mexico and Western Texas. The map depicts the forecast for 6 p.m. MDT June 19, 2019.