Weather radar insights into the turbulent dynamics of a wildfire-triggered supercell thunderstorm

Alex Terrasson, Nicholas McCarthy, Andrew Dowdy, Harald Richter, Hamish McGowan, Adrien Guyot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Understanding wildfire-atmosphere interactions is key to improved accuracy of predictions of wildfire behavior. This is needed for improved preparedness to mitigate loss of life and property during wildfire events, particularly for situations with strong fire-atmosphere coupling. Here we present observations from the passage of a cold front over the Sir Ivan Dougherty wildfire on February 2017 in eastern Australia. We demonstrate that an increase in near-surface atmosphere moisture associated with the cold front, when combined with changes in fire behavior at that time, led to reduced thermodynamic stability that helped to trigger a thunderstorm. This fire-trigged supercell thunderstorm produced lightning, while radar observations identified a mesocyclonic circulation within the pyrocumulonimbus, similar to a supercell thunderstorm. Results highlight the need to monitor the thermodynamic properties of air masses approaching wildfires and the rapid evolution of pyrocumulonimbus, which may develop mesocyclone characteristics. Weather radar offers the most effective capability to achieve such insights.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8645-8658
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres
Issue number15
Publication statusPublished - 16 Aug 2019


  • fire behavior
  • fire-atmosphere interaction
  • plume dynamics
  • pyroconvection
  • radar
  • wildfire

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