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What is Fiery, Spins at 143 mph and is 17,000 ft Tall?

by Donovan Rittenbach, Jr.

The 2020-2021 winter has ended as one of the driest on record. We’re in one of the driest two-year stretches on record and now Californians are waiting to see what surprises this year’s fire season brings.

It’s hard to know how bad things will get, but it can’t get worse than the past three years, can it?

California’s 2018 fire season was the most destructive on record. In addition to the most acreage burnt, it also saw the Carr fire give birth to a firenado that rated as an EF-3, which basically means it was a doozy.

Redding fire tornado

Winds inside the vortex, that blasted through Redding, blew at 143 mph. According to Wired this was “the kinds of winds are what erase entire towns in Oklahoma.” Its plume of smoke rose 17,000 feet into the air and it was probably the strongest tornado in California history.

Last year, in 2020, that record of destruction was demolished in a short four weeks.

It all began when a freak lightning storm caused over 12,000 fires. 4.1 million acres burned as a result, which is more than burned in the entire 2018 fire season.

The complex of fires included the Creek fire, which is ranked among the 20 largest fires ever seen in California. The massive amount of heat from the fire caused convection currents to rise up creating a pyrocumulonimbus cloud that was 18,000 feet high. According to NASA, it was the largest such cloud ever seen in the United States.

This pyrocumulonimbus cloud towered above the Sierra Nevadas.

Unfortunately, the process of condensing steam or water vapor into liquid releases heat, causing the plume to rise higher and higher. This created winds that intensified the fire below and caused lightning which started more fires.

So how bad can 2021 be? Hopefully, the worst is behind us, but it’s impossible to say.

Let’s just hope we don’t even come close to breaking these previous records.

Is your commercial roof protected from fire? Next up, we explain what roofs have the highest fire ratings, and what kind of performance you can expect from them.

For a fascinating look into how fire science is being reshaped by California wildfires, check out this article on Wired.

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