The giant California wildfires that have consumed thousands of acres, destroyed hundreds of homes, and killed at least 10 people are visible from space, their huge smoke plumes whipped out to sea by the same winds that are fueling the blazes.
In nighttime satellite imagery tweeted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – the same agency that produces images of hurricanes and other weather systems – massive areas of smoke can be seen trailing into the Pacific from the wine country north of San Francisco. The fires, centered on Sonoma and Napa counties, are being driven by the hot Santa Ana winds that cross the state’s Central Valley toward the coast.
Also present in the photo are lights from urban areas, some of them very close to the plumes, signaling that even more homes and businesses could be torched if the fires continue their relentless pace.
The images come from the joint NASA/NOAA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership satellite. According to NASA, the photos are made using a camera hooked up to the Visible Infrared Imaging Radiometer Suite (VIIRS), a nighttime sensor (also called the Day/Night Band, or DNB). The technology was introduced in November 2016 in order to provide 24-hour photos from space, thus helping with weather forecasting and natural disasters such as the California fires.
They also are used to analyze changes in population density using nighttime lights or spotting power outages in the absence of lights in known urban areas, NASA says.