University Of Utah Researchers Work On Better Smoke Forecasting

Sep 7, 2020, 5:59 PM | Updated: 6:24 pm
Salt Lake City saw unhealthy air quality on Labor Day. (Jed Boal/KSL TV)...
Salt Lake City saw unhealthy air quality on Labor Day. (Jed Boal/KSL TV)
(Jed Boal/KSL TV)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Thick smoke from wildfires in California should get blown out of most of Utah Monday evening, but researchers with the University of Utah said wildfire smoke will be a growing problem because of climate change.

Fortunately, the smoky air that has blanketed Utah over the last 24 hours should be gone later Monday night. But the atmospheric scientists said the extreme fire behavior that creates the smoke is becoming more common.

“This definitely ranks up with some of the worst conditions that we’ve had,” said Logan Mitchell, assistant research professor in atmospheric sciences at the University of Utah.

Utah’s air quality was some of the worst in the nation over Labor Day weekend.

Right now, California firefighters are trying to put out some of the worst wildfires in state history. Atmospheric scientists from the University of Utah said extreme fire behavior will continue to intensify.

“As things get warmer and the fires become more frequent — especially in the west — and larger, we’re going to have smoky days like this in the future,” said Mitchell. “As the soil gets dryer, plants become dryer and things become more combustible.”

That will make lightning-caused and human-caused fires more common, Mitchell said.

“Creating the underlying conditions that are more favorable for fires is what climate change is doing,” he said.

Mitchell’s colleague, assistant research professor Derek Mallia, told KSL extreme fire behavior is also showing them phenomena they’ve only read about in the past.

“We know theoretically that this stuff is possible. But these fires are just getting so so large that we’re seeing this extreme kind of fire behavior,” said Mallia.

Like a pyrocumulonimbus cloud — an explosive storm cloud created by the smoke and heat from a fire — collapsing on itself.

“It’s very extreme fire behavior,” Mallia said, describing the behavior.

The fire is emitting so much energy that it forms a thunderstorm.

“You have a thunderstorm that’s kind of embedded within the smoke plume,” said Mallia. “You only see this with the most severe fires.”

When the plume loses energy quickly, the cloud collapses, creating a downburst of smoke.

“This can be very dangerous for firefighters at the surface, as it can result in very erratic fire behavior because of the winds shifting around,” said Mallia.

That’s one reason they continue to work on a better wildfire smoke forecasting tool.

“It’s this new generation of numerical weather prediction models that can help us make better forecasts, especially for fires that are kind of local,” said Mallia.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories


Michael Houck

Fire crews battle fire on tribal lands, lighting caused

First responders are fighting a wildfire on Saturday afternoon near Monarch Ridge and Brown's Draw Reservoir. 
7 days ago
(Utah Fire Info/Twitter)...
Madison Swenson

Lightning sparks wildfire near Vernal

Crews are responding to a new lightning-caused wildfire on Blue Mountain, about 20 miles east of Vernal.
9 days ago
(Wasatch Fire District)...
Madison Swenson

Crews fighting new lightning-sparked wildfire in Wasatch County

UPDATE: The Magpie Hill Fire is now 100% contained.
10 days ago
This E601 and Crew deployed to the Moose Fire, located approximately 17 miles north of Salmon, Idah...
Cary Schwanitz

Weber Fire District deploys crews to two states for wildfires

Crews from the Weber Fire District left for Texas and Idaho Tuesday to help battle wildfires.
11 days ago
Air support fighting the Springville fire, 08.01.22 (Credit: Mapleton City Fire Department)...
Michael Houck

PETA wants animal cruelty charges for Springville brush fire suspect

PETA is asking the Utah County Attorney's office to pursue cruelty-to-animals charges against the man who started a wildfire by lighting a spider on fire. 
11 days ago
(Adams County Sheriff's Office/Facebook)...
Associated Press

Washington town evacuated, some homes burned in wildfire

A small town in Washington state was evacuated due to a fast-moving fire that burned a half-dozen homes as crews in California made progress against the state’s deadliest and largest wildfire of the year.
15 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Types of Computer Malware and Examples...
PC Laptops

5 Nasty Types of Computer Malware and Examples | Everything You Need to Know to Keep Your Computer and Family Safe

Here are the different types of computer malware and examples that could potentially infect your computer.
tips how to quit smoking...

7 Tips How to Quit Smoking | Quitting Smoking Might be One of the Hardest Things You Ever Do but Here’s Where You Can Start

Quitting smoking cigarettes can be incredibly difficult. Here are 7 tips how to quit smoking to help you on your quitting journey.
Photo: Storyblocks...
Blue Stakes of Utah 811

Blue Stakes of Utah 811: 5 Reasons To Call 811 Before You Dig When Working in Your Yard

Call before you dig. Even at home, you could end up with serious injuries or broken utilities just because you didn't call Blue Stakes of Utah 811.
Days of...
Days of '47 Rodeo

TRIVIA: How well do you know your rodeo? Take this quiz before you go to the Days of ’47!

The Utah Days of ’47 Rodeo presented by Zions Bank is a one-of-a-kind Gold Medal Rodeo being held July 20-23, 25 at 7:30 PM. The Days of ’47 Rodeo How well do you know your rodeo trivia? Take the quiz to test your know-all before heading out to the Days of ’47 Rodeo at the […]
cyber security through multi factor authentication setup...
Les Olson IT

How multi factor authentication setup helps companies stay safe

Multi factor authentication (MFA) setup is an important security measure that every company should implement for their workers. It’s also wise to install it for your personal and home accounts.
Lighting Design

Check out these stunning lamps with stained glass shades

Lamps with stained glass shades are statement pieces that are more than simply aesthetic. They also meet a functional requirement: to light up a room.
University Of Utah Researchers Work On Better Smoke Forecasting