Smoke from Western Wildfires Reaches Atlantic Ocean
By By Andrea Mustain, OurAmazingPlanet Staff Writer
July 03, 2012, 8:36:54 AM EDT
Share this article:
Dozens of wildfires are raging around the western United States, and the large-scale burns are sending smoke as far east as Greenland, according to some atmospheric models.
In all, about 60 wildfires are burning around the nation, from Alaska to Utah to Florida, and satellite images show hazy curtains of smoke hanging over huge portions of the eastern two-thirds of the country.
Smoke travels well, said Georg Grell, a meteorologist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Earth System Research Lab in Boulder, Colo.
The hotter the fire, the higher its smoke can go — and the higher the smoke goes into the atmosphere, the farther it typically travels, Grell told OurAmazingPlanet.
"The winds are much stronger up there, so it gets transported much quicker," he said. In addition, once smoke gets to certain altitudes, it's less likely to be washed out of the air by rainstorms, Grell said.
Smoke from extremely hot wildfires can rise 4 to 5 miles (7 to 8 kilometers) into the atmosphere, and can even trigger massive thunderstorms, but it's likely that the smoke from the recent spate of fires is hanging out about 1 mile (1.5 km) above the ground.
An animation produced by the weather-forecasting branch of NOAA shows plumes of smoke drifting up over the Great Lakes states and reaching areas of the East Coast by June 29. [Watch the smoke animation]
Grell said that 10-day models from his own branch, which deals only in research, show the smoke reaching the Eastern Seaboard, out over the Atlantic, and drifting up toward the southern tip of Greenland. However, he said, although it is certain that wildfire smoke would certainly be in the mix, a certain proportion of the drifting haze would be pollution produced by the city centers along the East Coast.
"There is definitely still going to be some smoke effect in there — how much of it, I can't really say," he said.
Smoke does play a role in the weather — it can reflect sunlight, cooling some regions, and plays a role in cloud formation, Grell said.
Although the maps may look dire, those who live in the smoke's path aren't likely to feel any ill effects if they're far enough away from the wildfires, according to asthma expert Mitchell Grayson in Milwaukee, one of the areas beneath a smoky plume in the models.
"Even though it could be covering a large area, if [the smoke] is in the upper atmosphere, it's not going to be a problem, because it's not the air we're breathing," said Grayson, an associate professor of pediatrics at the Medical College of Wisconsin.
"When you can smell it, that's when you're going to have problems," he said.
- Raging Western Wildfires in Photos
- Images: Southwestern Wildfires Seen from Space
- Gallery: Reading the Clouds
Copyright 2012 OurAmazingPlanet, a TechMediaNetwork company. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
More Weather News
Dams date back to around 2950-2750 B.C., when the ancient Egyptians built the first known dam, but it's not common to learn about their purpose and how they work.
2nd winterlike storm of week to bring snow, ice and rain to eastern US from Wednesday night to Friday
Weather News - November 12, 2018, 3:06:50 PM EST
A storm with snow, ice and rain will bring travel disruptions from the Midwest and southern United States to the Northeast spanning Wednesday night to Friday.
Weather News - November 12, 2018, 11:52:48 AM EST
One of the most well-known meteor showers of the year is set to peak this weekend as the Leonids will be on full display across Europe.
Over 200 remain missing in Northern California as firefighters battle Camp Fire, which is tied for deadliest in state history
Weather News - November 12, 2018, 8:02:26 PM EST
The most destructive wildfire in California history continues to burn in Northern California in Butte County. The fire has destroyed hundreds of buildings and has placed hundreds of lives at risk.
75,000 Los Angeles County homes remain evacuated, number of destroyed homes expected to rise as Woolsey Fire rages in Southern California
Weather News - November 12, 2018, 1:51:06 PM EST
Extreme fire behavior will continue to challenge firefighters in Southern California early this week as they look to gain ground on two large wildfires.
Weather News - November 12, 2018, 10:03:03 AM EST
Heavy rain and thunderstorms slammed parts of Argentina over the weekend, and more is on the way through Tuesday.
Weather News - November 12, 2018, 12:03:09 PM EST
A rocket will streak across the sky over the mid-Atlantic early Thursday morning as NASA launches a spacecraft from the Virginia coast.
Weather News - November 12, 2018, 4:08:00 PM EST
Cyclonic Storm Gaja formed this weekend in the Bay of Bengal and will track westward toward southern India in the coming days.