Smoke-infused storm cloud over the Northwest Territories  -

Smoke-infused storm cloud over the Northwest Territories 

Today’s Image of the Day from NASA Earth Observatory  features a massive smoky storm cloud that developed over Northwestern Canada on September 16, 2023.

“For much of summer 2023, fires burned through boreal forests in northern British Columbia and Alberta, and in the South Slave Region of the Northwest Territories. The blazes triggered evacuations as they approached towns and unleashed plumes of smoke that occasionally dipped south into the United States,” said NASA.

“In mid-September, strong winds from a passing cold front interacted with some of the fires to create a vast smoke-infused cloud spiral. The smoky storm, which spanned hundreds of kilometers, is visible in this image captured by the VIIRS (Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite) on the NOAA-20 satellite.”

Wind gusts as high as 40 miles per hour intensified the fires and created towering “fire clouds” called pyrocumulonimbus clouds, which boosted smoke up into the storm clouds. 

“We see dozens of pyrocumulonimbus clouds each year, but this was an impressive event,” said Colin Seftor, an atmospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. 

Seftor monitors the spread of the airborne aerosols within wildfire smoke using the Ozone Mapping and Profiler Suite sensor on the NOAA-NASA Suomi NPP satellite.

“After the smoke was lofted up and entrained within the circulation of a passing low-pressure system, it resulted in the highest aerosol measurements we’ve seen this year,” said Seftor. “We did see two other smoke events in Canada in mid-August and early September, when aerosol index values were nearly as high,” he added.

Atmospheric scientist Hiren Jethva analyzed data collected by a lidar sensor on NASA’s ICESat-2 to measure the height of the smoke plume. “ICESat-2 data show a rising smoke cloud ranging from 6 to 11 kilometers,” he said. 

According to NASA, scientists track smoke heights as part of a broader effort to understand how aerosols within wildfire smoke affect the radiation budget and climate when they form smoke layers above clouds.

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory 

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