Explained: ‘Fire-breathing dragon clouds’, akin to fire-triggered thunderstorms

New Delhi, India Updated: Aug 06, 2022, 05:09 PM(IST)

Fire-breathing dragon clouds Photograph:( Others )

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Large-scale storm systems like a low-pressure area or a cold front frequently produce thunderstorms. However, a fire can produce its own thunderstorm where smoke combines with the resultant thunderstorm cloud if it is large enough and there is enough moisture in the air.

This week's aerial photos of the McKinney fire showed a pyrocumulonimbus, a roughly 50,000-foot plume that is becoming an increasingly frequent phenomenon. This year's latest cloud-producing fire is going almost unchecked in California's Klamath national forest. According to Derek Mallia, a researcher at the University of Utah who recently co-authored a paper demonstrating how smoke plumes are growing bigger, they are comparable to fire-triggered thunderstorms and are extremely concerning to firefighters.

Large-scale storm systems like a low-pressure area or a cold front frequently produce thunderstorms. However, a fire can produce its own thunderstorm where smoke combines with the resultant thunderstorm cloud if it is large enough and there is enough moisture in the air. In essence, the fire is producing its own weather, according to Mallia.

Because they leave a gap between the cloud and the ground, they can also cause fires to move erratically. David Peterson, a meteorologist at the US Naval Research Laboratory, claimed during a virtual press conference in 2021 that a wildfire produces more rising air the hotter it burns. "These are pushing smoke upward at extreme velocities, such that they’re injecting smoke at altitudes above the cruising altitude of jet aircrafts." "So, possibly, we're talking at 50 or 60,000 feet."

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Researchers are constantly learning about storms brought on by the fire. To aid fire management and firefighters, Mallia and his colleagues want to find a mechanism to predict when pyrocumulonimbus clouds may form. They also want to know how the clouds might contribute to the atmosphere's continued warming. Mallia warned that smoke carried into the lower stratosphere could have an impact on the climate. Black carbon, which is abundant in smoke particles, can cause warming when it is exposed to sunlight at high altitudes.

(with inputs from agencies)
 

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