The afternoon of Monday March 23rd was an afternoon rife with fast moving severe thunderstorms that kept storm spotters on their toes during the first half of the afternoon. A fast moving cold front and dry line sweeping across our region pretty much eradicated the moisture source feeding the storms across central Nebraska and north central Kansas by mid afternoon as the storms tracked northeast and east. Although high winds preceded the front...the wind increased even more and began veering to the west after 2 PM...gusting to 50 to 60 miles an hour at many locations.
A late winter dry spell and Monday's high winds also provided two of the necessary ingredients for rangeland fires...needing only a good spark to make things scary. Around 3 PM...the wind...dry vegetation and the necessary sparks initiated two large fires in south-central Nebraska...requiring some of our local storm spotters to opt for their fire gear. The first fire blew up just east of Kearney, Nebraska along Interstate 80...and the second fire erupted at around the same time near Chester, Nebraska along the Nebraska/Kansas border.
The Kearney fire burned several acres and a few structures along the Platte River...and the wind-whipped fire spread over an area estimated to be a half mile wide and two miles in length...jumping Interstate 80. It took about seven hours for local Fire Departments...and farmers volunteering their tractors and disc plows to create fire breaks...to contain the blaze and allow Interstate 80 to re-open. The equally dangerous Chester fire burned several square miles of agricultural land...buildings and irrigation pivots.
The satellite fire/smoke detection depictions and the radar animation below indicate the satellite fire detection locations (small squares) and the satellite detected smoke plumes (gray shaded areas) from each of the fires. In the radar animation at the bottom...over the course of time you can observe two distinct smoke plumes originating and spreading out from the fire just east of Kearney...and the large smoke plume rising from the fire near Chester. Prior to the fire near Chester...smaller short-lived smoke plumes can also be observed flaring up briefly over northern Kansas south of the Chester fire.
Also of note...a pair of fine lines (faint blue) were observed trailing in behind the early afternoon thunderstorms. These features marked the drier air and temperature discontinuities moving across our region from the southwest. The heavier lines emanating from the radar site to the northeast and east northeast was some type of interference...possibly from other radars.
Satellite Derived Fire and Smoke Plume Detections East of Kearney, Nebraska
Satellite Derived Fire and Smoke Plume Detections Near Chester, Nebraska
Radar Animation of Smoke Plumes Rising and Spreading From Kearney and Chester Fires