The Dixie Fire Was So Intense, It Created New Weather Patterns

The Dixie Fire Was So Intense, It Created New Weather Patterns

Christopher Owen

It’s no question that wildfires are some of the most destructive and unpredictable disasters on the planet, as they can occur without notice and burn through thousands of acres of forests in a matter of hours. Every year, millions of humans and animals lose their homes, entire ecosystems are destroyed and vast forests crucial to maintaining environmental equilibrium are killed. Wildfires have rocked our planet starting as early as the Silurian Period (roughly 400 million years ago) and even though we possess a deep understanding of why they happen, every wildfire comes with its own grave surprise. From spawning fire tornadoes to electric lightning storms, scientists still remain baffled as to how wildfires can cause such supernatural events completely on their own. Although very few fires in history have had such extreme weather events, they are more prone to happen as a result of global warming and climate change. With more arid summer temperatures and drier ground conditions, this is a deadly combination perfectly suited for wildfires to burn hotter and for longer, increasing the likelihood of these fires producing severe weather. In the case of a wildfire currently ravaging Dixie, California, a supernatural weather event unlike any other witnessed in geologic history occurred: creating its own weather pattern. 

At first, this might not sound like a huge deal. After all, every wildfire in of itself is a weather pattern. But the unprecedented factor here is that this wildfire created its own tornadoes, rain showers, and fire-fueled thunderstorms (Pyrocumulonimbus clouds) while it was still burning, meaning that it also created its own wind currents and updrafts. When we normally think of a wildfire, we imagine an ender from a campfire sparking a leaf that ignites a whole section of forest or lightning striking a tree for instance. What we tend to forget is what the wildfire itself could cause, not what could cause it to happen. All wildfires produce smoke and heat obviously, but with the Dixie wildfire, no one was expecting something so small to become so enormous and violent. 

The most chilling event by far happened on July 19th, 2021, roughly a week after the wildfire started. Up to this point, it was already an imminent threat, having burned through 30,000 acres of dense forests as it continued to consume more land each passing hour. However, the wildfire passed over a particularly dry region of forest that day and fed off of an abundance of dry fuel (leaves, sticks and trees primarily). As the fire became hotter, the air above it started to rapidly heat up as large jets of smoke rose into the atmosphere. The moisture in the air mixed with the smoke particles, which developed hazy, white clouds that made the air difficult to breathe. Over the course of the next few hours, the clouds grouped together and formed Pyrocumulonimbus clouds – a fire-fueled thunderstorm that is unimaginably powerful. In fact, it was so strong that over a dozen lightning strikes were reported in less than an hour, from a storm created from a fire. By mid-morning, the thunderstorm developed anvil-shaped clouds that spread the storm even further out and eventually started unleashing heavy rains, which did little to battle the blaze. The dry atmosphere removed nearly all of the moisture from the thunderstorm so little rain was making it to the ground. By late afternoon, the thunderstorm dissipated. 

This wildfire is unlike any other fire recorded in Earth’s history. It’s now the largest active wildfire in the U.S. (third in California’s history) has burned over 960,000 acres of forest, has destroyed over 1,300 homes, and has been burning for over 3 months. Luckily, 94% of the fire is contained. No one is certain as to when the fire will be 100% contained. Weeks, maybe even months? Although the cause of the fire is still under investigation, this goes to show all of us the wrath of natural disasters and how catastrophic the consequences of global warming truly are.