Dallas Fire from Space

Ok, if you can’t tell, I am a big fan of posting these type of images in the weather blog. Yesterday afternoon there was a huge chemical plant fire just south of the DFW Metroplex. Fortunately, no one was hurt…but the satellite that I grabbed this image from (MODIS), which hovers higher than most satellites could clearly pick out the smoke. But, notice how the smoke is quite “wide” in this image. It wasn’t going straight up, but rather up and then spreading out in a horizontal direction. Case in point, check out this image:

So, what’s going on here? Why isn’t the smoke going straight upand up and up in the sky? It has to do with the temperature profile of the atmosphere. The smoke will keep rising as long as it is is encountering air that is cooler than the parcel of air the smoke is in. Once the parcel of air meets a layer in the atmosphere where the air is warmer, (i.e. a “cap”), then the parcel of air stops moving upward and starts to spread out or sink. So, this right here explains why the dark cloud of smoke is as wide as it is, and the reason why it could be seen from space. Pretty cool if you ask me!

-Damon

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