A Blanket Of Smoke

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In the summer of 2020, a suprise thunderstorm struck California swepping lightning strikes across the golden state. It was a surreal moment that lasted a few minutes, but the wildfires that soon overwhelmed our state would last months.

Here are two panoramas I took before and during the 2020 California wildfires. Beautiful rolling clouds of pink and orange were replaced with a blanket of smoke. The Santa Teresa mountains are now obscured. You can even see the dry grass that feeds California wildfires, our amber waves of grain. View more detail!

On August 16th, 2020 at 6 in the morning, our Nest cam captured a huge blast of thunder and lightning. With a bright flash and a loud bang, the lightning storm rolled into San Jose and across most of California. The shockwave left car alarms ringing in the distance.

I woke up suddenly from the blast and ran to the window to see if I could still catch any strangling lightning strikes. The storm passed quickly but I caught a video of some short strikes. Within a minute, the whole ordeal was over.

Jaden Schaumburg (unaffiliated) tweeted a picture of “a massive fast-moving apparent ‘Roll Cloud’ impacted the Santa Cruz Coast shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday morning.” Above the clouds is the beautiful night sky and below lies lightning strikes at a distance into the ocean.

It was the talk of the town! Freak thunder storms, a minute of much needed rain, and beautiful photos of lightning and strange cloud formations. Little did we know that this would be the catalyst for some of the largest and most uncontrolled burns in California history.

When I took the second panorama, the air quality index had already reached ~200 (very unhealthy) and visibility was about 1 mile. No longer could you see the Santa Cruz mountains in the far distance. The beautiful pink clouds were replaced by a blanket of purple-grey haze.

It’s sometimes easy to forget, but San Francisco was bright red for the next few days. At the height of the pandemic lockdown in the US, the sun painted the city red through the low smoke cover across the city. We spent the rest of summer with a little tint of yellow/brown. The world did everything it could to ensure we wouldn’t go outside. Our main respite from the COVID lockdown was going to parks, enjoying some sun, and going on walks. Yet some rolling clouds managed to take all that away from us for so many weeks.



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