Arctic Burning: 3/4 Mile Wide Fire Tornado Over Tetlin Junction, Alaska

(Hat tip to Peter Sinclair who thumbs his nose at the deniers stating, in reaction to this Fire Tornado: “sure, happens all the time.”)

The above is a film recorded on August 16th, 2013 of an explosive fire complex forming a massive fire and smoke tornado 3/4 of a mile across and towering thousands of feet into the air over a ridge line near Tetlin Junction Alaska. Close inspection of the video reveals trees and branches being sucked into the large fire ‘tornado’ caused by very strong inflow along the fire’s leading edge. Tim Whitesell, a firefighter at the scene noted:

“A picture probably is worth a thousand words, but there are indeed times when a picture just doesn’t do it justice. I’ve never seen anything like it until now.”

The terrain features in this region include boreal forest and soil that is mostly permafrost. The film shows both burning trees and ground along with a section involved in an episode of explosive outburst.

Reports from from The Alaska Fire Service are nothing short of stunning:

“This wildland fire footage was captured on August 16, 2013, on the southeast perimeter of the Tetlin Junction Ridge Fire (#414), burning east of Tok and Tetlin junctions, north of the Alaska Highway.

Fire behavior increased into the later part of the afternoon on August 16. At approximately 7:00 p.m., the Alaska Division of Forestry Aerial Supervision Module (consisting of Tim Whitesell and Doug Burts) reported the fire vortex to be about 3/4 of a mile wide; it lasted for about an hour. The extreme fire behavior uprooted trees, a scene that was captured by this footage- look for trees being blown around in the smoke column at the end of the clip.”

The blaze that sparked this massive fire tornado is arguably one of the smaller events to impact the Arctic this year, just a fraction of the size of larger infernos that have raged through areas of Canada and Russia since June. In ‘Russia Experiences Great Burning’ MODIS shots identified fire complexes and burn scars that covered 100 to 300 square miles or more (one fire burn scar measured a massive 30×70 miles). These events happened ‘off camera’ so there is no way to know if they also spawned very large fire tornadoes similar to the kind witnessed at Tetlin Ridge. What is clear from this fire and from fires across the Arctic this year and last is that the far north is burning like never before. As Russia’s eastern provinces experienced some of their worst flooding in 120 years, massive wildfires continued to burn even as the terrible rains and storm complexes advanced in an ominous Song of Flood and Fire. By now, the extent of Russian blazes has been somewhat lessened by these storms, although fire maps still show numerous active blazes.

A satellite picture of the blazing ridge-line on August 15 is given below.  The fire is located in the center of the image and spans about 5×10 miles of the affected ridge line. You can also see the burn scars of previous wildfires in the lands surrounding the August 15-16 blaze.

Tetlin Junction Fire Tornado

Tetlin Junction Fire Tornado

(Image source: NASA/Lance-Modis)

Thawing permafrost, warming forests, Arctic heatwaves and more energetic storms combine to provide massive volumes of warming fuel and increasingly powerful ignition events in the Arctic. Not only can trees burn, but the organic carbon stored in permafrost and sometimes bottled up as methane beneath the surface also provides fuel. In many cases, fires have burned three feet deep into what was the permafrost bed below consuming roots, stumps and soil.

Very large and energetic fire outbreaks have been increasing throughout the Arctic with recent years seeing some of the worst fires on record.

Links, Credits and Hat Tips:

The Alaska Fire Service

Climate Crocks

NASA/Lance-Modis

Colorado Bob

Robin Westenra

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