Monday, September 5, 2011

Fire or Thunder?

It's early Sunday morning and I can see several small cloud puffs that are changing shape and color as daylight approaches. Some even have darkening bottoms. Will rain be on the way? I appreciate clouds and enjoy their unique beauty and they are fun to look at. Who recently has observed shapes in the clouds? On hot days, I can look out across our local mountains and see large puffy clouds that resemble a stack of cotton clumps.
Then I wonder- is that a fire or is there a thunderstorm?

According to the website Enchanted Learning:

 "Clouds form when water vapor (water that has evaporated from the surface of the Earth) condenses (turns into liquid water or solid ice) onto microscopic dust particles (or other tiny particles) floating in the air. This condensation (cloud formation) happens when warm and cold air meet, when warm air rises up the side of a mountain and cools as it rises, and when warm air flows over a colder area, like a cool body of water. This occurs because cool air can hold less water vapor than warm air, and excess water condenses into either liquid or ice."

I live in Southern California and this is the season for brush fires. We currently have one going on in the Cajon Pass, near the high desert city of Victorville. I cannot see the smoke because of my location, but I know from the news photos that there is a cloud-like formation rising into the sky. I heard a local news meteorologist refer to certain clouds created by brush fire as    Pyrocumulus.*

This is defined as  
 “A dense cloud associated with fire or volcanic activity”

 These clouds result from extreme heating of the air from the surface below, which then causes a chemical reaction known as convection that then forms the cloud. When the vegetation is burned, there is additional moisture that adds to the powerful cloud structure.

When fire clouds grow, they can create their own weather system. Often the hot, dense clouds create thunderstorms, which set off lightening and may ignite additional fires or there may be rain, which helps put out the fires.

When there is a jet stream of very hot air, it can set off severe thunderstorms, which then may create firestorms, and fire tornadoes.  These firestorm clouds are called  Pyrocumulonimbus.

This video is a time lapse view of fire clouds that occurred at the Station Fire of August 2009. I remember that fire and it could be seen for miles. 

  In my research of fire clouds, I learned that a single fluffy cloud is known as cumulus and they tend to be the foundation for other types of clouds. When other cotton ball clouds are added, it is known as cumulonimbus referring to the accumulating of clouds into a column or tower shape.
"Cumulus clouds are puffy clouds that sometimes look like pieces of floating cotton. The base of each cloud is often flat and may be only 1000 m (330 ft) above the ground. The top of the cloud has rounded towers. When the top of the cumulus resembles the head of a cauliflower, it is called cumulus congestus or towering cumulus. These clouds grow upward, and they can develop into a giant cumulonimbus, which is a thunderstorm cloud.

Cumulonimbus clouds are thunderstorm clouds that form if cumulus congestus clouds continue to grow vertically. Their dark bases may be no more than 300 m (1000 ft) above the Earth's surface. Their tops may extend upward to over 12,000 m (39,000 ft). Tremendous amounts of energy are released by the condensation of water vapor within a cumulonimbus. Lightning, thunder, and even violent tornadoes are associated with the cumulonimbus"

 I watched the clouds all day as they took on a flattened and connected shape. By the the time darkness arrived, the sky was totally overcast. At 2:25am, I was awakened by a thunder and rain! I bet there was a collective cheer from the firefighters at the Victorville fire.  (Now, if only Texas could get some of this rain.)

Cloud watching is a pleasant past time. However, when the clouds signify fire, that's not so fun. Not too many structures were destroyed in this current fire, but worse, there was life lost. The fire passed through farms with live stock and an animal sanctuary. Ever since I personally witnessed a house fire a few months ago,  the tragedy seems even more real to me.

 To end on a more cheerful topic, I encourage you to search the sky and gaze at the clouds. God's Creation is amazing.  I am seeking more than  just shapes and types of clouds; I am also looking for that Glorious Appearing!

* All cloud photos  are from the Internet,except for the Station Fire Picture


  1. I remember those fire clouds, though never knew the technical name for it. I applied for a teaching job in Victorville. Wonderful pictures, Barb.

  2. Great post! I learned a lot about clouds that I never knew. I loooove cloud watching and we had some awesome clouds early this morning. Thanks for the lesson on clouds!

  3. Very interesting, Barb. I know I studied clouds in high school and college years, but had forgotten much of it. And I don't think I ever did know the name pyrocumulus for the cloud that rises from fires or volcanoes. I enjoyed reading this!

  4. Cloud watching is one of my favorite activities. I think because Jesus is a cloud rider so I'm always looking for him.

    I didn't know about the fire clouds. I hope I never see one in person.

  5. Oh wow! Thank you! Very informative about fire clouds.

  6. I've always loved clouds. Where I live there is almost always lots of them. If we have too many days in a row with just blank blue skies it seems boring!

    Hoping for the fires to be under control soon.

  7. Interesting! I learned something new.

  8. VERY interesting! Living in Colorado those pyrocumulus clouds are all too familiar!
    Thanks so much!


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