Numerous wildfires continue to burn in California, and their smoke and pyro-clouds can be seen by satellites as well as the International Space Station.
According to NASA, the Mendocino Complex recently surpassed the 2017 Thomas fire as the largest wildfire on record, charing 460 square miles of land — the equivalent size of New York City.
The heat from these fires can produce its own cloud type, known as pyrocumulus, which forms when the heat of the fire pushes humid air higher into the atmosphere, where water vapor condenses into liquid water, forming the cloud. If the pyrocumulus grows large enough, it can become a pyrocumulonimbus cloud — sparking lightning that can further cause more wildfires.
“Many of the larger fires in California have produced pyrocumulus clouds on an almost daily basis,” research meteorologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison research meteorologist Scott Bachmeier explained to NASA .
“While much of the smoke is being ejected to high altitudes and transported eastward across the Lower 48 states, some of it has been confined to the boundary layer, reducing visibility and affecting air quality near the fires.”