Video shows pyrocumulonimbus clouds form above Dixie fire

After the Dixie fire in Butte and Plumas counties spurred its own storm cloud Monday, the National Weather Service shared a video of the phenomenon to Twitter.

The video taken at about 3:30 p.m. shows swirling clouds of smoke called pyrocumulonimbus, which NASA has called the “fire-breathing dragon of clouds.”

Pyrocumulonimbus are storm clouds that generate as a result of wildfire, said Scott Rowe, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Sacramento office.

Wildfires create heat as they burn, Rowe said. That heat then rises and creates enough instability in the atmosphere to trigger the cloud’s formation, which, in turn, also spurs rain and lightning.

“This does increase dangers associated with wildfire because now there’s potential for lightning in and around the wildfire,” he added.

The Tamarack fire, which has burned more than 39,000 acres in the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest south of Lake Tahoe, also generated its own clouds Tuesday, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Despite more frequent reports of pyrocumulonimbus, the clouds are not a new phenomenon, Rowe said.

“They do develop with wildfires when it’s very hot outside,” Rowe said. “They just need correct atmosphere conditions.”

The Dixie fire began July 14 and has burned more than 59,980 acres as of early Tuesday, according to Cal Fire. The blaze is 15% contained.

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