A large fire at a northern New Jersey warehouse Wednesday morning sent thick black smoke into the sky for hours.
According to NBC New York, the inferno in North Brunswick started just before 2 a.m. and firefighters were still battling the blaze Wednesday afternoon.
The fire was so intense, smoke billowed thousands of feet into the air. Helicopter footage showed the smoke plume drifting for miles to the southeast.
But it wasn’t just people on the ground or in helicopters that saw the smoke.
Several weather radars picked up on the smoke particles, including the one closest to the fire, which is positioned to the south in Mount Holly, New Jersey.
Atmospheric conditions must be supportive and the fire must produce enough smoke in order for weather radar to see it. It turns out that winds weren’t too strong but were blowing just enough from the northwest to push the smoke downstream.
Given that the fire occurred at night and skies were clear, an inversion was present. That means conditions were not favorable for air parcels to rise. However, given the temperature and intensity of the fire, enough of the smoke plume was able to rise into the sky.
The lowest scan on the radar out of Mount Holly goes over North Brunswick 2,500 feet above the ground. Many radar scans picked up on what was going on during the early morning hours of Wednesday.
Other weather observing equipment showed the smoke, too. Visible satellite images in the hours following sunrise revealed the longevity of the smoke plume. It traveled as far south as the waters off the Delmarva Peninsula, hundreds of miles from the source.
It’s not uncommon for weather radar to show returns that are not associated with precipitation. Insects, dust and birds are other things that show up from time to time.
Dual polarization technology allows meteorologists the analyze targets and determine if the returns are of meteorological origin or not.
In the case of smoke, the radar indicates it is looking at something very dissimilar to another target nearby. That makes sense, since particles in the smoke plume take on different shapes and sizes.