Wildfires Can Spread By Making Their Own Weather

Scientist say ‘Pyrocumulonimbus’, but ‘Fire Breathing Dragon Clouds’ how CBS Alberta described the phenomenon.

Athena Intelligence
3 min readFeb 16, 2024

Heat and smoke, rising from a large and hot wildfire, may create large clouds. Pyrocumulonimbus clouds look like cumulus congestus clouds, also known as towering cumulus. Cumulus clouds are caused by hot air rising creating areas of moist convection. But when the rising air source is from a wildfire, it lacks the moisture that can cool the cloud with rain.

Still, pyrocumulonimbus clouds imitate the behavior of tall cumulous clouds, generating lightning and erratic winds, starting new fires and making it hard to fight existing fires.

From one of the YouTube videos below.

With a typical medium article, the writer strives to use words to tell you something that you will remember. But they say a picture is worth a 1,000 words and while there is some scientific information further down in this article, if all you remember is the amazing pictures and videos, I will have reached my goal.

Pyrocumulonimbus cloud formation is increasingly recognized as a significant consequence of wildfires, representing a complex interplay between extreme fire behavior and atmospheric dynamics. These towering cloud formations can have profound impacts on the fires behavior. They impact air quality over larger areas and the weather — which in turn, effects wildfire management strategies.

CBS’s weather reporter describes the process:

Pyrocumulonimbus clouds form when intense wildfires generate enough heat to create an updraft that lifts smoke, ash, and other particulate matter high into the atmosphere. As the plume ascends, it cools, condenses, and forms a cloud reminiscent of a cumulus congestus cloud that leads to a thunderstorm.

The pyrocumulonimbus process is often facilitated by intense heat and dry atmospheric conditions, which promote convective activity. This can exacerbate fire behavior by producing strong, erratic winds that spread embers and ignite new fires ahead of the main blaze. The clouds are also prone to generate lightning, sparking new fires or complicating firefighting efforts.

Massive amounts of smoke and ash injected into the upper atmosphere can have significant consequences for regional and even global weather patterns. As the heat dissipates, the smoke particles may assist in the moisture condensation process, leading to localized rainfall, raising concerns about flash flooding and mudslides in fire-affected areas.

Athena's conditional geospatial profiling model is more effective in these situations than wildfire simulation models. The entire area is pre-fingerprinted, so as lightening strikes, firefighters have an understanding of where the fire is likely to go. One of Athena’s favorite examples, California’s Mosquito Fire, involved pyrocumulonimbus clouds.

Sources on the Internet say, “Improved forecasting and modeling capabilities are essential for predicting the occurrence and behavior of pyrocumulonimbus clouds, in order to enable authorities to issue timely warnings and evacuation orders.”

Athena has already completed some of this modeling.

Here was Athena's assessment:

Pyrocumulonimbus clouds are a dramatic and dangerous part of the complexity of wildfire behavior. These clouds have significant implications for weather, air quality, and fire management.

Athena Intelligence is a data vendor with a geospatial, conditional, profiling tool that pulls together vast amounts of disaggregated wildfire and environmental data to generate spatial intelligence, resulting in a digital fingerprint of wildfire risk.

Clients include communities, power companies, insurance and financial services — with Athena’s geospatial intelligence incorporated into CWPPs, WMPs, PSPS, property underwriting and portfolio risk optimization.



Athena Intelligence

Athena Intelligence weaves vast amounts of disaggregated environmental data. Drop us a line (Info@Project-Athena.com), or visit www.athenaintel.io