Can smoke from fires intensify tornadoes?
“Yes,” say researchers, who examined the effects of smoke –- resulting from spring agricultural land-clearing fires in Central America — transported across the Gulf of Mexico and encountering tornado conditions already in process in the United States.
A tornado in Shoal Creek Valley Alabama during a historic severe weather outbreak on April 27, 2011. A new study finds that a severe weather outbreak in 2011 was caused mainly by environmental conditions leading to a large potential for tornado formation and conducive to supercells, and that smoke particles intensified these conditions.
Credit: Wjalex4/Wikimedia Commons
This image shows MODIS-Aqua satellite products for 27 April 2011 over the southeast US, Central America and the Gulf of Mexico (GoM), along with tornado tracks (red solid lines, thickness indicates the magnitude of the tornado reports , thickest=5, thinnest=1) for the period from April 26-28, 2011. The background is a true color image of the surface, clouds, and smoke, with yellow markers indicating fire detections and an iridescent overlay showing aerosol optical depth (AOD). Red, green and purple colors show high (1.0), medium (0.6) and low (0.1) AOD values. The article by Saide et al. (2015) shows that the increase in aerosol loads in the GoM is produced by fires in Central America, and this smoke is further transported to the southeast US where it can interact with clouds and radiation producing environmental conditions more favorable to significant tornado occurrence for the historical outbreak on 27 April 2011. Satellite L1B (true color image), AOD, and fire detection retrievals obtained from the NASA Level 1 and Atmosphere Archive and Distribution System (LAADS); Tornado reports obtained from the NOAA Storm Prediction Center (SPC); imagery courtesy of Brad Pierce NOAA Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS) Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR).
Credit: Pablo Saide
The new study, accepted for publication in Geophysical Research Letters, a journal of the American Geophysical Union, examined the smoke impacts on a historic severe weather outbreak that occurred during the afternoon and evening of April 27, 2011. The weather event produced 122 tornadoes, resulted in 313 deaths across the Southeastern United States and is considered the most severe event of its kind since 1950.
The outbreak was caused mainly by environmental conditions leading to a large potential for tornado formation and conducive to supercells, a type of thunderstorm. However, smoke particles intensified these conditions, according to co-authors Gregory Carmichael, professor of chemical and biochemical engineering at the University of Iowa in Iowa City, and Pablo Saide, Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER) post-doctoral fellow at the University of Iowa.
They say the smoke lowered the base of the clouds and increased wind shear, defined as wind speed variations with respect to altitude. Together, those two conditions increased the likelihood of more severe tornadoes. The effects of smoke on these conditions had not been previously described, and the study found a novel mechanism to explain these interactions.
“These results are of great importance, as it is the first study to show smoke influence on tornado severity in a real case scenario. Also, severe weather prediction centers do not include atmospheric particles and their effects in their models, and we show that they should at least consider it,” says Carmichael.
“We show the smoke influence for one tornado outbreak, so in the future we will analyze smoke effects for other outbreaks on the record to see if similar impacts are found and under which conditions they occur,” says Saide. “We also plan to work along with model developers and institutions in charge of forecasting to move forward in the implementation, testing and incorporation of these effects on operational weather prediction models.”
In order to make their findings, the researchers ran computer simulations based upon data recorded during the 2011 event. One type of simulation included smoke and its effect on solar radiation and clouds, while the other omitted smoke. In fact, the simulation including the smoke resulted in a lowered cloud base and greater wind shear.
Future studies will focus on gaining a better understanding of the impacts of smoke on near-storm environments and tornado occurrence, intensity and longevity, adds Carmichael, who also serves as director of the Iowa Informatics Initiative and co-director of CGRER.
The research was funded by grants from NASA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Fulbright-CONICYT scholarship program in Chile.
The American Geophysical Union is dedicated to advancing the Earth and space sciences for the benefit of humanity through its scholarly publications, conferences, and outreach programs. AGU is a not-for-profit, professional, scientific organization representing more than 62,000 members in 144 countries. Join our conversation on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media channels.
Notes for Journalists
Journalists and public information officers (PIOs) of educational and scientific institutions who have registered with AGU can download a PDF copy of this article by clicking on this link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/2014GL062826/abstract?campaign=wlytk-41855.5282060185
Or, you may order a copy of the final paper by emailing your request to Nanci Bompey at email@example.com. Please provide your name, the name of your publication, and your phone number.
Neither the paper nor this press release is under embargo.
“Central American biomass burning smoke can increase tornado severity in the U.S.”
P. E. Saide: Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA;
S. N. Spak: Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA;
R. B. Pierce: NOAA Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS) Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR), Madison, Wisconsin, USA;
J. A. Otkin and T. K. Schaack: Cooperative Institute for Meteorological Satellite Studies, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin, USA;
A. K. Heidinger: NOAA Satellite and Information Service (NESDIS) Center for Satellite Applications and Research (STAR), Madison, Wisconsin, USA;
A. M. da Silva: Global Modeling and data Assimilation Office, NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, USA;
M. Kacenelenbogen: BAER Institute/NASA Ames, Moffett Field, California, USA;
J. Redemann: NASA Ames, Moffett Field, California, USA;
G. R. Carmichael: Center for Global and Regional Environmental Research (CGRER), University of Iowa, Iowa City, Iowa, USA.
Contact information for the authors:
Pablo Saide: firstname.lastname@example.org
Greg Carmichael: +1 (319) 335-1414, email@example.com
+1 (202) 777-7524
University of Iowa Contact:
+1 (319) 384-0009
Nanci Bompey | American Geophysical Union
More than 100 years of flooding and erosion in 1 event
28.03.2017 | Geological Society of America
Satellites reveal bird habitat loss in California
28.03.2017 | Duke University
The Institute of Semiconductor Technology and the Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry, both members of the Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology (LENA), at Technische Universität Braunschweig are partners in a new European research project entitled ChipScope, which aims to develop a completely new and extremely small optical microscope capable of observing the interior of living cells in real time. A consortium of 7 partners from 5 countries will tackle this issue with very ambitious objectives during a four-year research program.
To demonstrate the usefulness of this new scientific tool, at the end of the project the developed chip-sized microscope will be used to observe in real-time...
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
28.03.2017 | Life Sciences
28.03.2017 | Information Technology
28.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy