In this animation of satellite images, a natural color view of smoke streaming out across the Pacific alternates with a false-color view showing the presence of aerosols from smoke. (Images: NASA Worldview. Animation: Tom Yulsman) As I'm writing this post on Thursday night, tens of thousands of homes in Southern California are threatened by raging wildfires. And with a forecast calling for bone dry humidity and gusty winds through Sunday, relief is not yet in sight.
The total acreage burned so far in Southern California is already approaching 150,000 acres. This is equivalent to about 40 percent of the size of the city of Los Angeles.
The fires have prompted authorities to order the evacuation of 200,000 people in Ventura and Los Angeles County.
Whipped up by fierce Santa Ana winds, smoke from the blazes has streamed far out over the Pacific from the coast of California. I created the animation at the top of this post to show just how far the smoke had spread as of Wednesday, Dec. 6th. The animation consists of images from the Suomi-NPP satellite. One is a natural color view; the other shows the concentration of the smoke aerosols.
Using a NASA interactive tool called Worldview to access satellite imagery, I estimate that the smoke traveled at least 1,000 miles out over the Pacific by Wednesday. By now, winds may well have carried it even further. But cloud cover makes it difficult to document this.
Long-range transport of smoke is not a new phenomenon. In fact, in September, smoke from wildfires burning in Montana and other western states was blown all the way across North America, out over Greenland, and across the Atlantic Ocean.
The western United States has seen a long-term trend of increasing wildfire, brought on by a variety of factors — none more significant, according to recent research, than human-caused climate change.