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Satellite image shows smoke from wildfires reaching the eastern United States as hurricanes break up



The image captures a tumultuous summer.

As wildfires in the western United States encroach on neighboring states, smoke has engulfed the airspace stretching across the eastern half of the country. Meanwhile, Hurricane Sally recently weakened near the Louisiana coast from a Category 2 storm to a Category 1 storm, but forecasters say the exact strength is unlikely to change the blows it takes. it starts to fire along the gulf coast.

AccuWeather’s senior in-flight meteorologist Adam Del Rosso posted a NOAA satellite image on Twitter Monday evening, highlighting the overlap of smoke from wildfires and two nearby Atlantic hurricanes.

Satellite images of the United States show how dense smoke from the wildfires that occurred in the West spread and drifted across the eastern skies of the country. South of the smoke is Hurricane Sally, which had been downgraded from a Category 2 hurricane to a Category 1 before picture time. Further east, the smoke spread into the Atlantic and straddled Hurricane Paulette. At the time of the image, the Category 2 hurricane was continuing to strengthen.

The wildfire season in the western United States has had an intense impact on at least the 10 states that are currently fighting to contain the fires. Collectively, over 4.6 million acres of land – part of the United States the size of Connecticut – is currently burning. The wildfires have burned more than 6 million acres in total, slightly more than the size of New Hampshire, since January 1, 2020, to date, according to the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC).

A total of 87 large fires, not counting individual fires at complexes, are burning in all 10 states, the agency said. The USDA Forest Service defines a “large fire” as a fire burning more than a specified area of ​​land, which may differ from state to state, but also as “a fire burning with size and size. an intensity whose behavior is determined by the interaction between his own. convection column and weather conditions above the surface. “

As a comparison of the intensity of the 2020 wildfires to the year before, California has seen at least 3.3 million acres burned so far this year when it has seen only 0, 3 million burned during 2019. For the 10 states currently battling wildfires, only 1.6 million acres were burned in 2019. From January 1, 2020 to date, the same states have seen a collective 6.5 million acres burned, according to NIFC data and fire reporting sources compiled at the state level.

Smoke from those destructive fires drifted as far east as parts of Pennsylvania and even plunged into southern states like North Carolina and Tennessee – and even out to the sea above Paulette.

The smoke has impacted air quality reports across the country and even caused temperatures to drop. Knowing that hurricanes thrive on heat and humidity, is it possible that smoke would impact tropical development if the haze drifted towards the Gulf?

Hurricanes thrive on heat and humidity, and there are a multitude of factors that can hamper the development of a storm. As for weather-affecting smoke, it can decrease and block enough sunlight to keep the heat of the day at bay, according to senior AccuWeather meteorologist Alex Sosnowski.

“If the smoke layer is thick enough, especially at altitude, as is the case in the east, it can retain high temperatures by several degrees,” Sosnowski said. “The smoke can also insulate a bit at night … act as a blanket and keep temperatures from dropping a few degrees.”

But hurricanes are fueled by heat and humidity from the sea surface – and bodies of water tend to take much longer to adjust to temperature flows. This is one of the reasons the hurricane season peaks in September and through October, after the scorching and peak summer heat preheats the ocean.

Due to the power drawn from the ocean, storms generally reside in the lower part of the atmosphere. Smoke from forest fires over central and eastern states persists between 20,000 and 40,000 feet. In the Gulf, the tallest storm clouds could extend 30,000 to 50,000 feet above the sea surface. The “main energy zone” that the hurricane feeds on, as Sosnowski calls it, is from sea level to about 15,000 to 20,000 feet, or so. The energy that drives activity comes from the surface of the sea and this lower area of ​​the atmosphere.

While particles in the atmosphere, such as Saharan dust that travels from West Africa to the Gulf Coast from June to July, tend to suppress tropical development, smoke from forest fires will not not the same effect.

“[Wildfire smoke] usually resides higher in the atmosphere and is probably not as thick, ”said Dan Kottlowski, AccuWeather’s top hurricane expert. they would be otherwise. “

“While the smoke could theoretically have an effect on Sally, it would likely be minimal with the effects of the Gulf, with land and wind shear far outweighing the impact on the tropical system,” Sosnowski said.

Wind shear, or the increase in winds with increasing altitude, is a common factor in the suppression of tropical systems. However, in Sally’s case, as Sosnowski points out, he did not act alone.

With the smoke as a factor, we turn to the nature of the storm itself. Sally didn’t weaken from any wildfire intervention, but more from self-sabotage.

“Sally got weaker due to her own slow movement, which caused the waters of the Gulf of Mexico to stir and bring fresh water up from the depths,” Sosnowski said. “Plus, Sally stalled close to the coast, so the friction of the earth was pulling the storm flow.”

Windshear in the area was also starting to intensify. “It’s also starting to pull some of the storm out,” Sosnowski added.

Meanwhile, Hurricane Paulette continues to strengthen under smoky skies.

Perhaps for the best, the record-breaking two seasons of 2020 are unlikely to interact as they overlap.

Due to some clouds and the upper vertical circulation of hurricanes, Sosnowski says there could be some mixing, but one wonders what will happen to that – although probably nothing major in terms of impacts.

“There is no direct impact that can be clearly proven that smoke improves or keeps hurricanes away, I would say,” Sosnowski said. “But, since they’re in two different parts of the atmosphere in this case, the effects would be minimal at best or maybe not at all.”

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