Wildfire smoke from the Williams Flats fire, burning on the Colville Indian Reservation, triggered a thunderstorm Thursday, and for one of the only times ever, scientists were able to fly through its clouds, photograph the phenomenon from a jet and take measurements from inside.
The phenomenon, called a pyrocumulonimbus or PyroCb, “is essentially a thunderstorm that is created or driven by a wildfire,” said David Peterson, a meteorologist with the Naval Research Laboratory, giddy after Thursday’s flight. “The heating from the fire produces an updraft column and under certain favorable weather conditions, you can build a cloud on that plume.”
These high-altitude thunderheads can produce thunder and lightning, but rarely dump precipitation.
Peterson said he could see smoke being injected just below the stratosphere during the thunderstorm.
Peterson’s research is part of a joint National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) project to better understand wildfire smoke’s impact on air quality and the climate.