New Mexico on Fire

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A pyrocumulus cloud billows above the Thompson Ridge fire in northern New Mexico on June 4, 2013. Image courtesy of Larry O’Hanlon

On Tuesday I got two interesting views of the ongoing fires in northern New Mexico. One was through the eye of a satellite (see below). The other (above) was out my window. I did a double take when I caught sight of this amazing cloud that was growing minute-by-minute as I watched from Placitas, New Mexico. This is a pretty special kind of cloud. It’s what’s called a pyrocumulus cloud and is not just smoke, but water vapor. The difference is that this cloud was created by the powerful updraft of a fire.

Video: Fire Tornado Explained

The smoke is from the Thompson Ridge fire in the Jemez Mountains, and you can see the smoke rising from behind a ridge in the lower left. Winds are dragging the smoke and clouds east.

Two large fires in northern New Mexico are visible from space. The image at the top of this post was shot from the location marked by the yellow X.

This second image is from NASA’s Earth Observatory. They report: “On May 30, 2013, a downed power line ignited the Tres Laguna Fire in a rugged, forested area north of Pecos, New Mexico. A day later, the Thompson Ridge Fire emerged in Valles Caldera Preserve, blazing through forests of ponderosa pine. On June 1, 2013, the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured this image of both fires. Red outlines indicate hot spots where MODIS detected unusually warm surface temperatures that are associated with fires.”

New Mexicans are not particularly surprised by these fires since we live in what’s currently the most drought-stricken state in the U.S., according to the U.S. Drought Monitor. We have what they call a “exceptional drought.” That’s a five on a scale of five; worse than a “severe” or “extreme” drought. I’m curious what we’ll call it if it gets even worse.

But there is some hope in sight. July in the Southwest typically starts the monsoon season. We’re all anxiously waiting for that, which ought to fill a few cisterns and lower the fire danger a tad (barring lightning strikes, which accompany the rains).