smoke storm wildfire US Canada"smoke storm wildfire US Canada"
Screenshot 2023-05-24 at 14.15.12

Satellite Images Unveil Massive ‘Smoke Storm’ from Wildfire Sweeping Across the US and Canada

A ‘smoke storm’ swirls over North America as seen by the GOES-16 satellite on May 20, 2023 (Credit: RAMMB/CIRA Slider animation screenshot)

On May 20, 2023, the GOES-16 satellite acquired stunning images of what one climate scientist described as “smoke storm.”

It happened when huge amounts of smoke rising from wildfires burning in the western Canadian province of Alberta were sucked up by a low-pressure weather system rotating counterclockwise near the Canada-United States border. You can see it in the screenshot above and in this animation:

So far this year some 500 forest fires have scorched more than 3,600 square miles of Alberta. This area is equivalent to more than ten times the size of New York City.

The cause of most of the fires has not been determined. But as of May 20, 11 were confirmed as caused by lightningand 17 human-caused.

Temperatures in Alberta have been well above normal and it’s also been quite windy, conditions that have helped the fires spread. For example, on May 4, temperatures in Fort McMurray in the northern part of the province soared to a record high 90 degrees F, breaking the previous record by 20 degrees. The average maximum for that day is only 55 degrees F. Throughout the month, winds were often in excess of 25 mph, and at times well over 30.

Forest fire and climate change

Increase in temperature, dryness and drought have extended fire seasons in a quarter of the world’s vegetated areas since 1979. Evidence also shows “that human-caused climate change has led to an increase in the area burned by wildfire in the forests of western North America, according to the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“In this region, the higher temperatures of human-caused climate change have doubled [the] area burned from 1984 to 2015, compared to what would have burned without climate change,” according to the IPCC report. The additional area burned is larger than the area of ​​Switzerland. In a particularly bad year in British Columbia , drought and high temperatures contributed to fires that burned seven to eleven times the area that would have burned without climate change.

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