The Williams Flats Wildfire in Washington which broke out on the morning of August 2, 2019, has created ample opportunities for researchers from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to investigate a rare phenomenon called the “fire cloud”.
The NASA Earth Observatory reports that a team of researchers took images of the “fire clouds” on August 8 and the pictures have amassed reactions of wonder at the beauty of the clouds while they were still being formed.
The scientific term for these clouds is pyrocumulonimbus (pyroCb) or sometimes cumulonimbus flammagenitus. They are created when a large amount of heat and moisture are released and are thrust upward by a strong force, which in this case was the massive fire.
These in turn, “under favourable weather conditions”, produce a thunderstorm.
According to the NASA website, “A pyrocumulonimbus storm combines smoke and fire with the features of a violent thunderstorm. Pollutants from these storms are funneled into the stratosphere.”
The study of the clouds is part of a project called FIREX-AQ to better understand the impact of the smoke from the wildfire on air quality and the climate.
The images, however, have amused social media users to a great extent. The sheer magnificence of the formations attracted comments both funny and awe-struck.
NASA: We'd like you to fly your plane into a pyrocumulonimbus cloud and take some readings for us.
Pilot: Sure thing. Wait. Pyro.... what's that again? Is that like... fire?
NASA: Don't worry. It'll be fine.https://t.co/yIztRCQd7W— Jazz Shaw (@JazzShaw) August 17, 2019
The images were taken as NASA’s DC-8 flying laboratory flew through the phenomenon. While the fire burned on the Colville Indian Reservation and the thunderstorm was being formed, scientists captured this rare occurrence and take measurements from within.
Some Twitter users found the images surreal.
Eerie 'Fire Cloud' Floats Like Alien Structure Over Washington https://t.co/kGZjF15A5X— Katherine Cooper (@MiriamBehira) August 21, 2019
“Very few photographs of large pyroCbs are available, especially from the air,” said David Peterson, FIREX-AQ forecaster.
A lot of thought went behind the logistics of the images- they were shot from a height of 30,000 feet from the ground while the light from a setting sun shone through the smoke.
It is believed by the researchers that the data and photographs collected from the joint project could give us valuable information about the rare “fire breathing dragon of clouds” that are formed from wildfires.