Florida Thunderstorm Develops over Wildfire

Created and maintained by Roger Edwards, Storm Prediction Center

Thunderstorm over Florida Wildfire

During the day on 19 Jun 1998, as on many late spring days, a sea breeze front moved inland from the Gulf coast across the Florida Panhandle and coastal bend. The cooler, relatively stable marine air behind the front was almost cloud-free, while thousands of small cumulus clouds prevailed along the front and farther inland. Sea breeze fronts often explode with thunderstorms, as vertical circulations along them lift hot and moist air upward through weak capping inversions. During this day, however, the air mass was too capped for thundertsorms along this part of the sea breeze front -- everywhere but over an intense forest fire in Suwannee County, Florida, near the town of Live Oak.

As the sea breeze front passed over the fire, the rising motion of the hot air off the fire combined with lift along the front; and a thunderstorm erupted. The smoke from that fire is a thin gray plume extending eastward from the thunderstorm in the image above. If your browser is configured for Javascript capability, you can see this process from space in this javascript loop of thunderstorm formation over the fire. [This loop will take several minutes to load on modem connections.]

Instead of aiding fire fighters with heavy rain, such storms can actually hamper fire suppression efforts by producing strong downdrafts, erratic winds, and additional lightning-started fires. In Florida, the ground and vegetation had been badly desiccated after months of scant rainfall, making conditions ideal for wildfires to start and spread.

Fires across FL during the spring of 1998 killed 3 people, destroyed at least 370 homes and vast tracts of field and forest, forcing the closure of much of I-95 and postponing the July 4 races at the Daytona speedway. Every county in the state had fires.

Thanks to Greg Carbin of SPC for providing the images, animation and most of the information on this unusual event. For more info, e-mail Greg at greg.carbin@noaa.gov.


Florida Division of Forestry


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::::: California Wildfires: A Satellite View :::::

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::::: Radar Depictions of Outflow Boundaries :::::

::::: Jarrell TX F5 Tornado (27 May 97) :::::

::::: Central American Fires Spew Smoke into U.S. :::::

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