Ash cloud from Soufrière Hills, Montserrat.

Word of the Day: Pyrocumulus

Ash cloud from Soufrière Hills, Montserrat.
Ash cloud from Soufrière Hills, Montserrat. Is this a pyrocumulus? December 17, 2005.

I rebooted this blog to enthusiastically rave about dragonflies, but apparently you get the Colorado Wildfire Watch instead. Today I learned a new word: pyrocumulus. A pyrocumulus cloud is a cumulus (‘pile-up’) cloud created by fire, such as a wildfire or a volcano. I am still not entirely clear on how to tell the difference between a pyrocumulus and an non-pyrocumulus smoke plume, though.

What blows my mind is that a large volcanic pyrocumulus (technically at that point a pyrocumulonimbus) can actually produce lightning, by a little-understood process.

Today another wildfire started outside Boulder, near Flagstaff Mountain, one of my favorite hiking areas. I actually went hiking up in Gregory Canyon about a month ago early in the butterfly season, and I have a bunch of photos I need to go through, so I’ll try to do a cheerful insect post soon. I’m not sure how much of the area is going to be left–the Flagstaff Fire is about 230 acres right now, but it’s aggressive and in difficult firefighting terrain. It seems to be burning toward the city of Boulder, which is not exactly an improvement. Meanwhile, the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs has moved into the western edge of the city, forcing 32,000 people to evacuate.

I’ll probably try to get some photographs of the Flagstaff Fire later this week, since I work in Boulder. I’m not a meteorologist, and not sure whether the plume qualifies as a pyrocumulus yet, but it’s pretty impressive, in that scary, depressing way.

It’s shaping up to be an incredibly bad wildfire season in the western U.S.

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2 thoughts on “Word of the Day: Pyrocumulus”

  1. What blows my mind is that a large volcanic pyrocumulus can actually produce lightning,

    Well that sounds like it can only end well….

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