Pyrocumulus and lenticular clouds billowing up from the Mendocino Complex fires on Sunday, July 29, 2018. Pyrocumulus clouds, usually seen over volcanoes, have appeared over several California wildfires including the Carr, Ferguson, Mendocino Complex and Cranston fires. NWS Sacramento
Pyrocumulus and lenticular clouds billowing up from the Mendocino Complex fires on Sunday, July 29, 2018. Pyrocumulus clouds, usually seen over volcanoes, have appeared over several California wildfires including the Carr, Ferguson, Mendocino Complex and Cranston fires. NWS Sacramento

California

California’s intense wildfires are creating clouds like those over erupting volcanoes

By Gabby Ferreira

gferreira@thetribunenews.com

July 30, 2018 05:02 PM

More than a dozen wildfires are burning in California right now — some with so much intensity, they’re creating cloud formations usually seen over erupting volcanoes.

The clouds, known as pyrocumulus, are cumulus clouds that form when hot air and smoke are ”released into the sky during wildfires and volcanic eruptions”, according to LiveScience. Pyrocumulus clouds, which also formed during the Thomas Fire in December 2017, have been spotted coming from the Carr Fire near Redding, the Ferguson Fire in Mariposa County, the Mendocino Complex fires and the Cranston Fire near Idyllwild, according to social media posts from meteorologists and other observers.

Regular cumulus clouds form when the sun heats up the ground and creates warm air, which rises and then condenses into a cloud, according to CNN.

Pyrocumulus clouds form at a much faster rate, according to LiveScience. They “can even produce lightning and cause the winds to gust and blow in different directions,” CNN meteorologist Brandon Miller said. The clouds can also produce rain that will sometimes put out the fire.

Nick Nauslar, a NOAA research scientist, said the clouds can create dangerous weather systems and potentially more wildfires, Live Science reported.

Pyrocumulus clouds that appear above volcanic eruptions produce lots of steam and appear black or dark brown from the volcanic ash, according to Outside Magazine. Pyrocumulus clouds that appear above wildfires “are usually dark gray due to the smoke and ash,” Outside reported.

On social media, meteorologists and observers alike have posted photos of pyrocumulus clouds they’ve spotted over the fires.

Sobering satellite imagery at sunset this evening depicting (multiple) massive pyrocumulus plumes and widespread smoke coverage across northern California. #CarrFire exploding again, with new fires in Mendocino County (#RanchFire, #RiverFire) and elsewhere. #CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/VbXFUgMzYz

— Dr. Daniel Swain (@Weather_West) July 28, 2018

Another breathtaking example of a pyrocumulus cloud over the #CarrFire this week -- generated when the fire is so hot the air explodes upward, creating a new local weather pattern that can bring strong winds, lightning, and... new fires.

Photo: @TMFPD pic.twitter.com/hXvtElAQba

— Eric Holthaus (@EricHolthaus) July 30, 2018

Pyro cumulus and lenticular clouds as observed by NWS Imet from the #MendocinoComplex fire. #cawx pic.twitter.com/O8sTtPQaWy

— NWS Sacramento (@NWSSacramento) July 30, 2018

How crazy is this?

A pyrocumulus cloud formed from the #CarrFire...

If it gets big enough it can create a microclimate, which means more winds and the possibility for lightening.@Milt_Radford @RandiBurnsKTVL @AutumnKTVL

Can you help us understand how these form? pic.twitter.com/PBQx6PDdkw

— Kimberly Kolliner (@KimberlyKTVL) July 28, 2018

Incredible capture of a pyrocumulus cloud associated with the #CarrFire over Redding, CA. (Image credit: Jim Mackensen) pic.twitter.com/nMJPgkYNqx

— Jackson Dill (@Jackson_Dill) July 27, 2018

Impressive #pyrocumulus with long shadow from #CarrFire showing up on #GOES16 visible satellite from yesterday evening. Hoping for the best. Stay safe. pic.twitter.com/Jmhd58VmXN

— NWS Binghamton (@NWSBinghamton) July 27, 2018

Looks like #FergusonFire is generating another pyrocumulus cloud this afternoon per #GOES16 imagery. Smoke is only gradually spreading out as winds aloft are rather light, with worst air quality impacts in the immediate vicinity of the fire. #CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/EdtG1zpscm

— Daniel Alrick (@SFmeteorologist) July 17, 2018

#pyrocumulus near French Gulch taken from Hwy-3 in #TrinityCo #CARRFire pic.twitter.com/2ihHx3dD4q

— Coady (@slugrocketcoady) July 29, 2018

#CranstonFire #pyrocumulus cloud 3 hour time lapse in #SoCal. Lightening has even been detected in the past within the smoke plume associated with the vigorous fire. pic.twitter.com/RgAesLjxTg

— NWS CWSU Oakland (@NWSCWSUZOA) July 26, 2018

Rare #Pyrocumulus cloud created by the rising heat from the #Cranstonfire #calfire #CAwx pic.twitter.com/F6FU9NBIb0

— Jeff Morris (@itwasthelight) July 27, 2018

Time lapse of the intimidating pyrocumulus clouds towering over the burning Idyllwild hellscape, bringing with them lightning, high winds and turbulence, making it tough for aircraft to fight the fire. #CranstonFire pic.twitter.com/fzFumNIvgk

— Jacob Margolis (@JacobMargolis) July 26, 2018

#socalfire #CranstonFire from #OrangeCountyCA #ranchomissionviejo about 60 miles away. Be safe. #pyrocumulus #Idyllwild #Cranston pic.twitter.com/h4IXW59LwZ

— CoastLook (@CoastLook) July 26, 2018

Smoke from the Carr Fire and other wildfires in California and Oregon has drifted north to Washington and across Idaho, creating hazy skies across the region. Take precautions if you're sensitive to air pollution.

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