‘Smoke cyclone:’ Airborne ash from California fires creates disturbing satellite image

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This GOES-16 GeoColor satellite image shows brown smoke from wildfires blowing westward in the atmosphere from California’s Sierra Nevada to the Coast Ranges and from Oregon, top, on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020. (NOAA via AP)

SAN FRANCISCO (NEXSTAR) – For the better part of a month, fires from across the western United States have filled the skies with smoke and ash, creating unhealthy air conditions for millions of Americans.

Daniel Swain, a climate scientist, spotted a plume of ash on Wednesday reaching the mid-level of the atmosphere and swirling in a cyclone-like movement above California.

National Weather Service Meteorologist Roger Gass says the weeks of smoke have left particles lodged at different levels of the atmosphere.

“The smoke from all the wildfires is getting pulled into the sky and letting us see atmospheric movements that we wouldn’t normally see with the naked eye,” says Gass.

Though unsettling, the “cyclone” images do not indicate a dangerous weather event on the horizon.

In another oddity, NASA spotted the Creek Fire South of Yosemite National Park creating its own pyrocumulonimbus cloud last week. The term essentially means a cloud created by flame. You can see images on the NASA website.

Gass says the fall fire season in California is often fueled by offshore air movement pushing warm winds across fire-prone areas, but this severe fire season kicked off to an early start thanks to an “extreme heatwave” and a rare summer thunderstorm.

As of Wednesday, an estimated 2.5 million acres have burned in California. A series of devastating fires that have also broken out in Oregon and Washington. At least seven people have died.

Gass says the air quality across Oregon and California will remain fire-dependent, but a change in winds could begin pushing smoke toward the East as early as Friday.

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