Western Canada: 710,117 lightning strike in 15 hours

Pyro-cumulonimbus is the fire-breathing dragon of clouds. North American Lightning Detection Network sensed 710,177 lightning events across British Columbia and northwestern Alberta in about 15 hours, between 3 p.m. on June 30 and 6 a.m. on July 1.

Newsdesk (July 2, 2021, 3:45 PM, Gaudium Press) – A pyro-cumulonimbus storm combines smoke and fire with the features of a violent thunderstorm. Pollutants from these storms are funnelled into the stratosphere. Yet, a cumulonimbus without the “pyre” part is imposing enough — a massive, anvil-shaped tower of power reaching five miles (8 km) high, hurling thunderbolts, wind, and rain. Add smoke and fire to the mix and you have pyro-cumulonimbus, an explosive storm cloud actually created by the smoke and heat from the fire, and which can ravage tens of thousands of acres. 

And in the process, “pyroCb” storms funnel their smoke like a chimney into Earth’s stratosphere, with lingering ill effects.

710,177 lightning events across British Columbia

Chris Vagasky, a meteorologist with the company Vaisala, which maps lightning strikes globally, said the North American Lightning Detection Network sensed 710,177 lightning events across British Columbia and northwestern Alberta in about 15 hours, between 3 p.m. on June 30 and 6 a.m. on July 1.

The majority of the strikes in western Canada were the result of pyro-cumulonimbus clouds forming over the wildfires tearing across western Canada, which has also suffered from a sweltering heatwave in the past week.

597,314 lightning strikes were in-cloud pulses, meaning the strikes didn’t hit the ground. “Each in-cloud lightning’ strike’ can be made up of multiple in-cloud pulses,” Vagasky explained. Vaisala detected 112,803 cloud-to-ground strokes over the same area, he said. “As a whole, Canada doesn’t generally see a lot of lightning — about 90% less than the United States. In fact, the counts from yesterday are more what you would expect to see in a big day over lightning-prone regions like Texas or Oklahoma.”

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On Thursday morning, the British Columbia Wildfire Service listed 47 blazes across the region. In a fire burning 95 miles northeast of Vancouver, the entire village of Lytton was evacuated of all 250 residents.

“The singularly most extreme I’ve ever seen”

Dakota Smith, a scientist in Colorado, tweeted along with satellite imagery. “Incredible & massive storm-producing pyro-cumulonimbus plumes.”

“I’ve watched a lot of wildfire-associated pyroconvective events during the satellite era, and I think this might be the singularly most extreme I’ve ever seen,” Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the Institute of the Environment and Sustainability at UCLA, wrote on Twitter. “This is a literal firestorm, producing *thousands* of lightning strikes and almost certainly countless new fires.”

Neil Lareau, a professor of atmospheric sciences in the department of physics at the University of Nevada at Reno, who studies wildfire-generated weather, said this appears to be the biggest pyro-cumulonimbus event he has seen.

“At face value, I’m tempted to say this might be the upper end of what I’ve ever seen, there have been some significant pyro-cumulonimbus clouds in British Columbia in 2017 as well as the Australian outbreak of 2020 and then the Creek Fire here in California.”

 With files from SFGATE

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