Animation: GOES-West Satellite Views the Soberanes Fire

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YouTube / Tom Yulsman / Discover

Tom Yulsman at Discover put together an animation of weather satellite images showing nearly the entire duration of the fire, from the morning of July 22 through July 30.

The images come from the GOES-West satellite, which circles the Earth in geostationary orbit.

The very beginnings of the blaze can be seen on July 22 before the frame goes dark for the first time. This is nightfall. Every time you see the frame go dark, night has fallen.

On the morning of July 23, day two of the fire, a thin plume of smoke can be seen clearly streaming south, almost parallel to the coast.

On day three, the plume begins to blow inland, and it really explodes toward the end of the day.

After you’ve watched the video once, refresh it, and try pausing it at the start of day three. Note the gray cloud layer that fills some of the valleys. This is California’s famous coastal fog. As the day goes on, and temperatures warm, the fog burns off, shrinking back out of the valleys toward the sea.

This happens several more times, and each day the fire tends to kick up as the afternoon wears on.

Overall, this year’s wildfire season in the United States got off to an early start. More than 29,000 wildfires have burned more than 2.6 million acres of land so far, according to NASA.

Human-caused climate change is playing a significant role in wildfire behavior in recent years. According to a 2015 report from the U.S. Forest Service:

Climate change has led to fire seasons that are now on average 78 days longer than in 1970. The U.S. burns twice as many acres as three decades ago and Forest Service scientists believe the acreage burned may double again by mid-century. Increasing development in fire-prone areas also puts more stress on the Forest Service’s suppression efforts.

Burgeoning development in the so-called ‘red zone’ — areas at high risk from wildfire — is consuming an ever-larger share of the Forest Service budget. From the report:

While the Forest Service and its firefighting partners are able to suppress or manage 98 percent of fires, catastrophic mega-fires burn through the agencies resources: 1–2 percent of fires consume 30 percent or more of annual costs. Last year, the Forest Service’s 10 largest fires cost more than $320 million. The cost of fire suppression is predicted to increase to nearly $1.8 billion by 2025. This trend of rising fire suppression costs…presents a significant threat to the viability of all other services that support our national forests.