New Study Warns Western Wildfires Can Lead to Hail Events, Thunderstorms in Central U.S.

by Shelby Scott
(Photo by PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP via Getty Images)

Wildfires have proven increasingly destructive in recent years. And climate change has proven the likeliest culprit, intensifying the catastrophic results of these massive blazes. However, now, a new study has proven that western wildfires could potentially lead to hail events during thunderstorms in the central United States.

The new study, published by researchers at the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, was featured in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

According to Fox Weather, the study found that heavy precipitation rates in the Central U.S. increased by 38% during the observed times. Severe hail also increased by 34%. Per the outlet, the study’s researchers believe instances of increased hail during thunderstorms are the result of the West’s fire season coinciding with the Plains’ severe weather season. This is significant because the two seasons don’t typically overlap. However, climate change, which has resulted in increasingly warmer fall weather out west, has made this overlap more common.

Jiwen Fan, an Earth scientist at PNNL, spoke about the importance of taking action amid these severe weather events.

“As we look at the future climate,” Fan explained, “we know wildfires will increase, particularly in the West. Therefore, it is reasonable to expect that these co-occurring events would happen more frequently, and the impact of western wildfires on central storms may become increasingly important in the future.”

That said, the Earth scientist emphasized, “The more we understand about the contributing factors behind storms like this, which cause massive property loss, the better we’ll be able to prepare for them.”

How Wildfires Have an Effect on Hailstorms

So we now know that increasingly dangerous wildfires and intensifying hailstorms are beginning to occur in diverse regions of the country simultaneously. But how exactly does one influence the other?

More than anything, the simultaneously occurring weather events result from aerosol that gets produced by western wildfires. Per the news outlet, burning wildfires produce 10 to 40 times hotter than typical temperatures. They also release smoke particles, otherwise known as aerosols.

The heat and aerosols then move farther inland by wind. Research states they are capable of traveling hundreds of miles to regions across the central U.S. with more moisture. The aerosols provide moisture there with enough aerosols that aid in the formation of hail.

The study exploring this interaction between diverse weather occurrences specifically took a look at the 2018 wildfire season. It included the Carr Fire and the Mendicino Complex Fire. And it found that the 2018 fires had significant effects on severe weather farther east.

The outlet reports that amid the massively destructive wildfires, regions across the Rockies and Plains were enduring major thunderstorm outbreaks. These often brought widespread hail damage and wind gusts surpassing 100 miles per hour.