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Saturday 4th January was truly an extroadinary and terrible day for the south-east corner of Australia. Skies turned pitch black at around 3-5 pm, when normally these areas would be in daylight. I have never been aware of this sort of phenomenon. Is it possible that thick smoke alone could have caused this, or was it larger particles such as burnt leaves and bark, picked up by strong updraughts from pyrocumulus clouds? It is worth noting that this occurred right before a cold front passed through the area, bringing southerly winds, and that pyrocumulus clouds had formed, and lightning was being generated from them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome :-) I just recently learned about pyrocumulus clouds. Yeah, it is probably dark beneath them. Random image: thumbs.gfycat.com/… $\endgroup$ – user18607 Jan 7 at 10:42
  • $\begingroup$ Yes, it's perfectly possible for smoke to cause this, though I can only cite first-hand experience as evidence. $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 7 at 19:22
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    $\begingroup$ @jamesqf I'm an USA-born American who've lived my whole in the USA. I'mma go hides my face in shame for just now learning what you explained. =P $\endgroup$ – Jamin Grey Jan 8 at 5:35
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    $\begingroup$ @JaminGrey Obligatory xkcd: you're one of today's lucky 10.000 (and I'm one of -a bit more of- them too, even if I'm not American ;) ) $\endgroup$ – Rafalon Jan 8 at 11:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Jamin Grey: Don't feel too bad. I'm often confused when people use those stupid two letter state codes, one of which is NE, and my first thought is that they're in New England :-) And then there's postal CA = California vs internet CA = Canada... $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Jan 8 at 18:14
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It's a combination of both the density and amount of smoke in the air and ash produced by the fire.

The thing about cold fronts and bush fires is they make the conditions for fire worse by pushing hot air in front of them. They have been blamed for the severity of the bush fires in Victoria in 2009, 1983 and 1939.

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It was a combination of thick smoke and pyrocumulus clouds. Possibly there might have been other types of cloud as well, Ash rising on the updraught may also have been a factor. I am informed that normal types of cloud sometimes made an appearance during the drought. Near-pitch darkness in daylight hours is also characteristic of volcanic eruptions, but I am not suggesting that volcanic eruptions were a factor in this case, though they make an analogy.

During cumulonimbus events in England, usually accompanied by rain and thunder, we often get very dim light in mid afternoon, long before evening time, though I wouldn't describe it as pitch darkness but more a sort of twilight. If enormous plumes of smoke were added, it very likely would have become almost pitch dark.

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    $\begingroup$ A standard CB is not a pyrocumulus and Australia is not England (i mean geographically ;-)) And the rules demand that answers be underlain with proof. $\endgroup$ – user18607 Jan 7 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ Not England? Well blow me down, I thought it was one of the southern counties! $\endgroup$ – Michael Walsby Jan 7 at 11:34
  • $\begingroup$ UK: I remember when the smoke from the Buncefield oil depot explosion/fire drifted overhead, thousands of feet up. It still looked sunny, but it was far too dark. $\endgroup$ – nigel222 Jan 8 at 10:07
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If you think how white smoke looks when it is rising elsewhere and you are looking at sunlight reflecting off it ... what you are then seeing, is some of the light that the folks who have that smoke between them and the sun are not getting. Smoke will also absorb a lot of sunlight (and re-radiate it as infra-red), especially if it's sooty black smoke rather than whitish ash.

On a gloomy note, you are experiencing what a nuclear war would cause on a global scale (a nuclear winter, caused by the ashes of civilisation). At least your smoke is not radioactive and relatively short-term ....

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