Thursday, July 18, 2013

Mountain Center Fire and this Weekend's Monsoonal Flow Weather Shift

A Unique Weather Phenomenon You Should Watch For - PYROCUMULUS PLUMES

Monsoonal Weather Updates for Mountain Fire July 20, 2013 = Monsoonal Flow shift in Mountain Fire region

NASA Earth Observatory
NASA image of fire and smoke direction. It will be interesting to see this change as Monsoonal flow gets stronger. Fore Management has said the shift has already started to change. (Click to enlarge image)

Cal-Fire Blog & El Toro Peak Webcam


Cal-Fire Blog & High Point Webcam

High Point HPWREN site  33.36N 116.84W at about 6180 feet
  These cameras and their image data server have been provided
by San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E).

This view appears to be from Mt Palomar area

image credit:

We've all seen this pattern of weather flow before, it's a return of a Monsoonal situation which could either help or make things much worse. Definitely, the initial effect will be a major wind shift towards Mount San Jacinto, Tahquitz Mountain, Fern Valley, Idyllwild and parts of south and western Palm Springs

Numerous wildfires have been raging across southwestern United States this year and NASA satellite have the ability to capture images of a weather phenomena called pyrocumulus cloud which will often be seen towering above smoke from a brushfire. Pyrocumulus clouds are associated with fires or volcanic activity and they form when intense heat pushes air high into the atmosphere. These clouds which have taken shape this week over the Mountain Center Fire which is presently burning into several directions of the Sam Jacinto Mountains of Southern California. This weekend should prove to be unique in this weather phenomena occurrence with a wind shift coming from Mexico from the southeast bringing in monsoonal moisture which increases changes of Thunderstorms. This also could be potentially dangerous as dry lightning strikes with no accompanying rains have themselves have been creating many of these fires so far this year in many of the western states.

CREDIT: NASA Earth Observatory

NASA's Aqua satellite captured this image of Montana's Dugan Fire on Sept. 15, 2012. The fire formed towering Pyrocumulus clouds.

Pyrocumulus clouds are similar to those Summertime Thunderhead cumulus clouds we see over the southwest this time of year, but the heat that forces the air to rise (which leads to cooling and condensation of water vapor) comes from fire instead of sun-warmed ground. Add to that a deep monsoonal flow and we could see a potential for massive buildups. In NASA satellite images like the one above here, pyrocumulus cloud appear as opaque white patches hovering over darker smoke. These pyrocumulus clouds sometimes may help dampen fires by dumping rain on the flames. But they also can threaten to propel fires with stronger, erratic winds and can send smoke and pollutants high into the atmosphere, which can affect air quality over a broad area, depending on wind patterns. In this present Mountain Center Fire in the San Jacinto Mtns, if the winds shift from east to west, then such pollution issues will be a problem for the Inland Empire areas of Riverside and San Bernardino Counties and possibly beyond towards Los angeles. Watch the video below of some very kool time lapse pyrocumulus cloud formations from the 2009 "Station Wildfire" as seen from Los Angeles California.

The challenge for many of the onlookers these next few day when viewing from a safer distance is to capture some of these spectacular images for a recorded history of the 2013 Mountain Fire through photography. While we have already seen the extreme potential for pyrocumulus clouds in the build ups recorded so far with the various High Point and El Toro Peak Webcam images, this weekend's weather shift could potentially create some spectacular shots, especially with the fire's growth potential doubling or tripling every day so far. You just may be able to capture your own images such as the amazing ones below.

Credit: InciWeb

Carpenter1 Fire in Nevada on
July 4th Afternoon


The enormous pyrocumulus cloud that built over the heavy Station Fire burn to the north of Cogswell Dam

Here are some other circumstances under which Pyrocumulus Clouds may form.

Credit: NASA Space Station

A fortuitous orbit of the International Space Station allowed the astronauts this striking view of Sarychev Volcano (Kuril Islands, northeast of Japan) in an early stage of eruption on June 12, 2009.

Image by Sigurdur H. Stefnisson

Volcano Lightning over Iceland. This is another common occurrence of Pyrocumulus Cloud formations.

credit: intercloudhead

Oil Refinery discharge Chimney creating a
Pyrocumulus Cloud

Credit: intercloudhead

This is another common occurrence, even in Southern California's Imperial Valley when fields of stubble are routinely burned off in the preparation of planting another crop. This is especially so during the monsoonal moisture events which move up from Mexico

Credit: courtesy of the County of Santa Barbara

A giant "Pyro Ice Cloud" rises above the distant mountains as the Zaca Fire burns uncontrolled about 25 miles away from Santa Barbara County's Emergency Operations Center and media briefing tent (foreground.) These spectacular Pyro Ice Clouds are a common occurrence caused by huge amounts of water vapor being released into the atmosphere during intense burns of trees and other vegetation. But the question is, "Will such scenes of greater magnitude be experienced with this present "Mountain Fire" recharged by a monsoon flow wind shift in the weather over the San Jacinto Mountains this coming weekend ?" Certainly people from far away vantage points will be able to capture spectacular though tragic images for historical reference.

Other Helpful References:

National Geographic: "Fires Can Create "Volcanic" Thunderclouds"


  1. THAT's what I saw in Garner Valley two days ago...the photo with the cows in the foreground. It was terrifying. I thought, "This looks like a volcanic cloud!"...good info.
    ~~Cheryl Ann~~

    1. It's amazing though what will cause and create clouds in different ways


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