NASA Tracks Diablo Winds Powering Massive Kincade Wildfire in California

Gusting winds in northern California are helping the spread of the Kincade wildfire, as shown in a new animation from NASA. Meanwhile, Maxar Technologies captured infrared images the fire using its suite of Earth-observing satellites.

The winds, which are known as Diablo winds, have reached speeds as high as 96 miles (150 kilometers) an hour. This fuels the fires, making it more difficult for firefighters to keep them under control. The fire grew by nearly 48,000 acres (19,400 hectares) between Oct. 26 and Oct. 28 alone. More than 2,000 people have evacuated from the blaze, which has consumed more than 120 structures.

NASA's new animation visualizes data captured between Oct. 20 and Oct. 28, showing strong gusts in yellow and weak winds in purple. This data comes from the Goddard Earth Observing System Model 5 (GEOS-5), a weather model that NASA is experimenting with to better understand weather around the world. This model takes in data from 30 sources, such as satellites, ships, aircraft and buoys.

Related: Astronaut Sees Devastating California Wildfires from Space (Photos)

This NASA image shows a visualization of how the "Diablo winds" are driving California's devastating wildfires. NASA is tracking the winds from space. (Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

"The Diablo winds tend to originate in the Great Basin region of Nevada and Utah," NASA said in a statement. "The winds are fueled by high-pressure air moving toward lower-pressure areas and lower elevations near the coast. On the way, the air masses pass over California’s mountain ranges and down through valleys, which causes the air to compress, heat up, and dry out. These hot, dry, gusty winds can exacerbate fire conditions and carry embers to the next patch of land."

Maxar's images show the fires burning on Oct. 27, courtesy of a type of infrared imaging (commercially unique shortwave infrared) that preferentially shows warmer and cooler areas in a particular zone. In a statement, Maxar said this type of imagery is useful for wildfire imaging, as the images tend to cut out obscuring smoke. Also, the shortwave infrared imagery easily shows which vegetation is burnt.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: