Science

Watch as California’s biggest wildfire of the year spawned a massive “fire cloud” visible from space.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather satellites have detected an “explosive growth” in a massive wildfire currently burning in northern California.

Images taken by the NOAA GOES 17 satellite and published by the agency on Twitter. (will open in a new tab) show numerous puffs of smoke forming and spreading throughout the satellite’s observation area for nine hours on Saturday and Sunday (July 30 and 31). “The wildfire was California’s largest wildfire of 2022, scorching over 50,000 acres as thousands of residents are forced to evacuate,” NOAA wrote along with the images.

A wildfire known as the McKinney Fire has consumed more than 50,000 acres (20,200 hectares) in the Klamath National Forest near the California-Oregon border. Drought, high winds and high temperatures across the region exacerbated the fire, according to The New York Times. (will open in a new tab). According to the New York Times, more than 2,000 residents have fled the area due to the fire, and two people have been reported dead in the fire so far.

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The McKinney fire created what is known as a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, or “fire cloud,” essentially a thunderstorm created by the heat, moisture, and pollutants that fires push up into the atmosphere. These fiery clouds can, in turn, trigger lightning strikes that start even more wildfires. For this reason, NASA calls these storms “the fire-breathing dragon of the clouds.” (will open in a new tab).”

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Additional satellite imagery shared by Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA, shows the formation of a massive 50,000-foot (15.25 km) pyrocumulonimbus cloud that funnels smoke into the atmosphere.

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As of Monday morning (August 1), the McKinney fire had been contained to zero percent, according to the California Fire Department. (will open in a new tab). The National Weather Service released (will open in a new tab) another red alert on Monday, meaning the area is still at risk of more wildfires due to “abundant dry-fueled lightning.”

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