The massive Carr Fire in and around Redding, California has now torched more than 40,000 acres.
Temperatures reached 115 degrees in the fire zone Thursday, and the fire blew up generating giant pyrocumulus clouds (flammagenitus) visible from space on weather satellites orbiting 22-thousand miles above the earth.
— The Sacramento Bee (@sacbee_news) July 27, 2018
There is some debate in the meteorology community as to the accuracy of calling fire whirls “fire tornadoes.” The size and formation mechanisms of the two phenomena are meteorologically different. But the circulation over Redding, California last night seems to have exhibited tornadic characteristics. Take a look at this time-lapse of the fire’s circulation.
— NBC Bay Area (@nbcbayarea) July 27, 2018
Here’s another view, this one is in real-time. You can clearly see the tornado-like circulation.
— ABC10 (@ABC10) July 27, 2018
Tornado-like circulation detected on Doppler
In fact, the fire-driven updraft circulation pattern is so well-formed it’s visible on Doppler radar images extending up to 18-thousand feet aloft. This is basically what a tornado vortex signature (TVS) looks like on Doppler.
Here is a summary of the radar observed cyclonic circulation within the #CarrFire pyro-plume over #Redding @ 9:45 PDT. Clear couplet of inbound/outbound flow. This radar sweep is about 2 km AGL…surface circulation likely MUCH stronger! Yikes! #CAwx #CAfire Credit to @WxMattt pic.twitter.com/U6yibE5hQm
— Neil Lareau (@nplareau) July 27, 2018
Here is a radar derived 3D plume visualization for the #CarrFire last night. The black line shows the vortex center from the surface to deep aloft in the #PyroCu #PyroCb. The vortex is nearly upright and extends to 5+ km. Starting to look kinda tornadic. #CAwx #CAfire pic.twitter.com/unCFm3T25C
— Neil Lareau (@nplareau) July 27, 2018
Tornadic damage patterns at ground level
It should be noted that ambient winds near Redding at the time of the fire were fairly low, and mostly under 10 mph. We know the intense updrafts inside fires create their own weather patterns. The observed damage patterns at ground level clearly indicate winds likely in excess of 60 mph. This is evidence of severe mesoscale tornado-like winds on the ground.
— Wilson Walker (@WilsonKPIX) July 27, 2018
The Carr Fire not only produced extreme fire behavior in Redding last night. It also appears to have produced a large and well-formed updraft circulation with tornado-like characteristics.
Another urban firestorm
The damage in the fire zone is devastating. It’s clear that a combination of extreme heat and low relative humidity produced extreme fire behavior.
— Christopher (@TheCoffeeJesus) July 27, 2018
UPDATE: The #CarrFire burning in NorCal has now claimed the lives of 2 firefighters. An estimated 37,000 people have fled. 65 structures have been destroyed, and 5,000 other buildings are threatened. https://t.co/fi4vbHaNYd pic.twitter.com/hWDXwjdnyF
— CBS Los Angeles (@CBSLA) July 27, 2018
As we’ve seen in recent years, urban firestorms are becoming all too common.
— Brian L Kahn (@blkahn) July 27, 2018
Wildfire-climate change connection
Climate science has clearly established that the length of fire seasons and the number of large fires in the American west are increasing due to planetary warming.
We’re witnessing climate change in action
I spent 9 years forecasting weather and reporting on wildfires working as a meteorologist in Arizona. I’ve talked with numerous wildfire experts about trends in extreme fire behavior. The science may still be young on the impacts of climate change on this extreme fire behavior.
But it’s meteorological common sense to expect hotter temperatures are driving the increased urban firestorms we’ve seen recently. My professional view is, we’re not only seeing more large wildfires, we’re now witnessing climate change in action through more extreme firestorms that are increasingly impacting urban areas.
We’re going to see more cities like Santa Rosa, Redding, Santa Barbara torched by an increasingly dangerous breed of firestorms.
This, unfortunately, is the new normal in our 21st-century climate. And the new normal will likely get even worse.