America’s Wildfires Are So Intense, They’re Creating Their Own Thunderstorms

by : Niamh Shackleton on : 16 Sep 2020 12:04
sweetbrownshuggah/Instagram/PA Images

Wildfires ravaging parts of California have grown so intense that they’re creating their own thunderstorms.

As of last week, the fires had burned through a record-breaking 2 million acres of land, affecting the lives of thousands of people.

The first person to discover the surreal storms created by the fires was Thalia Dockery, who took a photo of the apocalyptic-looking mushroom cloud herself while on a flight to Las Vegas on September 5.


Thalia told Insider, ‘I just so happened to look out my window in shock. I had no idea that it was from a fire until I came home and my son and I researched it.’

The dramatic photos showed that of a pyrocumulonimbus cloud, an enormous plume of hot, smoky air that had risen from a wildfire and then turned into a thundercloud in Earth’s atmosphere. The cloud seen by Thalia was reportedly located over the Creek Fire, which has burned 212,000 acres in Fresno and Madera counties since it started earlier this month.

This particular cloud reached 55,000 feet in the air, which might make it the highest pyrocumulonimbus cloud ever recorded in the US. Neil Lareau, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Nevada at Reno, told The Washington Post, ‘It’s about a solid 10,000 feet higher than we’re typically seeing with the highest of these plumes.’

Gender Reveal Party Blamed For Starting Huge Californian WildfireGender Reveal Party Blamed For Starting Huge Californian WildfirePA Images
PA Images

According to NASA, these clouds can grow so intense that they create their own weather. The space agency describes them as ‘the fire-breathing dragon of clouds’.

As per its website, NASA further described the clouds:


A cumulonimbus without the “pyre” part is imposing enough — a massive, anvil-shaped tower of power reaching five miles (8 km) high, hurling thunderbolts, wind and rain.

Add smoke and fire to the mix and you have pyrocumulonimbus, an explosive storm cloud actually created by the smoke and heat from fire, and which can ravage tens of thousands of acres. And in the process, “pyroCb” storms funnel their smoke like a chimney into Earth’s stratosphere, with lingering ill effects.

The huge clouds are responsible for a huge volume of pollutants trapped in the upper atmosphere.

Similar dangerous clouds were created following the devastating bushfires that occurred in Australia earlier this year, reported the National Geographic. Those fires grew so large they began to generate their own weather patterns, and made the computer programs used to predict their path no longer functional. This left New South Wales Rural Fire Service unable to properly predict the fires’ movements.

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Niamh Shackleton

Niamh Shackleton is a pint sized person and journalist at UNILAD. After studying Multimedia Journalism at the University of Salford, she did a year at Caters News Agency as a features writer in Birmingham before deciding that Manchester is (arguably) one of the best places in the world, and therefore moved back up north. She's also UNILAD's unofficial crazy animal lady.

Topics: News, California wildfires, Cloud, Now, Thunderstorms, US News, weather


Insider and 1 other
  1. Insider

    California's fires are so intense, some make their own thunderstorms. NASA calls the formations the 'fire-breathing dragon of clouds.'

  2. The Washington Post

    California’s wildfire smoke plumes are unlike anything previously seen