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When Smoke Meets Thunderhead

James Crawford
DC3 team and NASA Langley Research Center
A June 22nd photograph showing a severe thunderstorm interacting with smoke from the High Park Fire. Click on the picture to enlarge.

Ever wondered what would happen when smoke created by a wildfire meets a storm system?

The team of 100 researchers with the Deep Convective Clouds and Chemistry Experiment (DC3), ended their experiment on a high note capturing breathtaking photos of a severe storm interacting with smoke from the High Park Fire.

The DC3 project chased weather systems across Colorado, Alabama, and Oklahoma searching for, then flying into, large severe storms capable of bringing pollutant filled surface air into the troposphere.

The group was studying the effect surface pollution and chemicals have on Earth's upper atmosphere. Typically certain chemicals from the surface are not seen that far above Earth unless pushed there by a severe storm.

According to NASA’s Earth Observatory, the DC3 team said photographing the unique interception of the severe storms with smoke from the High Park Fire was a highlight of the entire project.

The DC-8 pilot brought the plane beneath the storm at an altitude of about 9,000 feet and then ascended upward to the storm’s anvil at about 35,000 feet, flying directly through the storm’s core and a thick layer of smoke at around 24,000 feet. The images above, photographs taken by Langley Research Center scientist James Crawford as the plane spiraled past the smoke layer, show the smoke encountering the heart of the storm.

Researchers with the DC3 project are just now starting to analyze the data gathered over the 6 week program. Data from the project could be used to forecast future air pollution levels or even what Earth’s climate could look like 30 to 50 years from now.

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