WILDFIRE

In the American West, plumes of wildfire smoke are reaching new heights

Jul 28, 2022, 7:00 PM | Updated: Aug 2, 2022, 10:21 am

wildfire plume study...

FILE: A massive smoke plume, powered by strong winds, rises above the the Woolsey Fire on November 9, 2018 in Malibu, California. (David McNew/Getty Images)

(David McNew/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY — A study from the University of Utah found that wildfire plumes are increasing in height across the mountain regions of the western United States. The study compared statistical information associated with wildfire plumes from between the years 2003 to 2020.

The researchers say that the taller wildfire plume heights lift the smoke and aerosols (small particles that made the sunsets red) higher into the atmosphere where they can more greatly impact air quality across a larger region.

The research concludes that the increasing size of wildfire plumes is due to the effects of climate change, specifically, droughts that create bone-dry fuel for wildfires. It also concludes that these plumes will exacerbate poor air quality conditions across the West.

“Should these trends persist into the future,” said Kai Wilmot, a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Utah in a press release, “it would suggest that enhanced Western U.S. wildfire activity will likely correspond to increasingly frequent degradation of air quality at local to continental scales.”

Some of the specifics from wildfire plume research

Using information from more than four million smoke plumes in the western U.S. and Canada, between 2003 and 2020, the researchers tracked the heights of wildfire plumes. In the Sierra Nevada region of California, plume heights increased, on average, by 750 feet per year. An average of four western regions showed an increase in plume height of 320 feet per year.

Why the increase? Wilmot said less snow and hotter temperatures are two reasons.

“… We’re seeing larger and more intense wildfires throughout the Western U.S.,” Wilmot said. “And so this is giving us larger burn areas and more intense fires.”

The increasing height of the plumes could be one of the reasons that Utah is so often impacted by smoke from wildfires in neighboring states. 

“When smoke is lofted to higher altitudes, it has the potential to be transported over longer distances, degrading air quality over a wider region,” said John Lin, professor of atmospheric sciences at the U.

“So wildfire smoke can go from a more localized issue to a regional to even continental problem.”

Better news for Utah?

The study included regions from the Western United States as well as Canada, including Utah’s Wasatch and Uinta mountain ranges. The researchers report that rising plume heights are seen in Utah. But the trend in Utah is not as strong as those in Colorado or California.

“In terms of the plume trends themselves, it does not appear that Utah is the epicenter of this issue,” Wilmot says. “However, given our position as generally downwind of California, trends in plume top heights and wildfire emissions in California suggest a growing risk to Utah air quality as a result of wildfire activity in the West.”

Related reading:

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Send it to the KSL NewsRadio team here.

Wildfire

Wildfire Academy students dig a handline, Monday, March 11, 2024, in Prescott, Ariz. Forecasters ar...

TY ONEIL Associated Press

U.S. wildfires are prompting changes in firefighting workforce

Forecasters are warning that the potential for wildfires will be above normal in some areas across the United States over the coming months as temperatures rise and rain becomes sparse.

12 days ago

texas wildfires...

Associated Press

Wildfire grows into one of largest in Texas history as flames menace multiple small towns

Known as the Smokehouse Creek Fire, the largest blaze expanded to more than 1,300 square miles and jumped into parts of neighboring Oklahoma.

2 months ago

After starting the new year with poor air quality, Utah may finally be able to take a breath and fi...

Heather Peterson

New black carbon sensor is more portable but just as accurate, study finds

A new study from the University of Utah finds that recently released black carbon new units are just as accurate in detecting black carbon, but they are more portable and affordable.

2 months ago

Cane toads produce poison in large glands perched on their shoulders that's fatal for some animals....

Hilary Whiteman, CNN

This warty, toxic pest threatens entire ecosystems. These scientists have a secret weapon

Originally Published: 19 JAN 24 18:42 ET Updated: 19 JAN 24 21:50 ET Brisbane, Australia (CNN) — On the edge of a dark, suburban park in Brisbane, teams of volunteer toad-catchers gather around Gary King as he shoves another squirming specimen into a cooler box. “Who’s got some more?” asks King, a local leader of […]

3 months ago

When officials arrived at the scene of a housefire in Deweyville in the overnight hours of March 7,...

Curt Gresseth

Firefighters’ chili cook-off raises money for burn camp and survivors

A Utah firefighter and a burn survivor talk about an upcoming chili cook-off to support a burn camp program.

6 months ago

Fire danger is on the rise across the state, thanks to the wind blowing and drying things out. Wind...

Heather Kelly

Health-related issues from wildfire smoke are on the rise

Wildfire smoke is causing health-related issues to increase in certain parts of the United States.

7 months ago

Sponsored Articles

a person dressed up as a nordic viking in a dragon boat resembling the bear lake monster...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

The Legend of the Bear Lake Monster

The Bear Lake monster has captivated people in the region for centuries, with tales that range from the believable to the bizarre.

...

Live Nation Concerts

All the artists coming to Utah First Credit Union Amphitheatre (formerly USANA Amp) this summer

Summer concerts are more than just entertainment; they’re a celebration of life, love, and connection.

Mother and cute toddler child in a little fancy wooden cottage, reading a book, drinking tea and en...

Visit Bear Lake

How to find the best winter lodging in Bear Lake, Utah

Winter lodging in Bear Lake can be more limited than in the summer, but with some careful planning you can easily book your next winter trip.

Happy family in winter clothing at the ski resort, winter time, watching at mountains in front of t...

Visit Bear Lake

Ski more for less: Affordable ski resorts near Bear Lake, Utah

Plan your perfect ski getaway in Bear Lake this winter, with pristine slopes, affordable tickets, and breathtaking scenery.

front of the Butch Cassidy museum with a man in a cowboy hat standing in the doorway...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

Looking Back: The History of Bear Lake

The history of Bear Lake is full of fascinating stories. At over 250,000 years old, the lake has seen generations of people visit its shores.

silhouette of a family looking over a lake with a bird in the top corner flying...

Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

8 Fun Activities To Do in Bear Lake Without Getting in the Water

Bear Lake offers plenty of activities for the whole family to enjoy without having to get in the water. Catch 8 of our favorite activities.

In the American West, plumes of wildfire smoke are reaching new heights