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Wildfires in Australia could also be shaping the weather

The Guardian logo The Guardian 27/11/2019 Trevor Mitchell (MetDesk

Parts of Australia have been suffering from wildfires recently due to long-term drought. Although you might think of dry, sunny conditions when you think of the factors that help wildfires to ignite and expand, they can actually create their own weather.

Large, rapidly rising columns of air can create clouds as water vapour cools and condenses aloft. Strong updrafts can lead to clouds that look like large cumulus or cumulonimbus, the large cauliflower-like clouds often associated with thunderstorms.

These clouds generated by wildfires are known as pyrocumulus or flammagenitus. Particularly vigorous updrafts can generate pyrocumulus clouds that produce lightning.

Wildfires are not the only method by which these strong updrafts can be generated. Spectacular lightning displays have been observed from pyrocumulus generated by volcanic eruptions.

Particles in the plume of smoke and ash act as condensation nuclei, particles upon which water vapour can condense and help create these clouds.

The influence of condensation nuclei can sometimes be observed in the UK, but on a much smaller and far less dangerous scale. Under the right conditions, cloud can be seen billowing out of the chimneys of industrial plants. These clouds can merge with other more “traditional” clouds.

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