May 16, 2024 - Heavy Smoke from Mexican Fires


A fierce fire season in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula sent smoke pouring northward over the Gulf of Mexico in mid-May 2024, turning skies hazy as far north as the U.S. state of Florida. On May 15, the southwest Florida news outlet,, reported hazy skies for the last two days over the region and expected several more days of the same.

More than 200 fires were burning across Mexico and Central America on May 15, according to news reports. This is consistent with the peak of the annual fire season in Mexico, which begins in mid-March and lasts about 14 weeks, according to Global Forest Watch. During this season, most fires are deliberately ignited and controlled for clearing pasture, renewing cropland, or other agricultural uses. However, media outlets have reported many wildfires active in mid-May. This includes an exceptionally large wildfire near Chiquiala, a town on the northeastern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired a true-color image of smoke from Mexico’s fires covering roughly two-thirds of the Gulf of Mexico. In places, the smoke is so thick that it obscures the blue water beneath. The state of Florida is hidden under a cloud bank in the northeast.

The bright area along the western Gulf is not smoke, but an optical phenomenon called “sunglint”. Sunglint occurs when sunlight reflects off the surface of the water at the same angle that a satellite sensor views it. The result in a mirror-like reflection that shows up as long, bright areas in MODIS data.

Image Facts
Satellite: Aqua
Date Acquired: 5/14/2024
Resolutions: 1km (760.2 KB), 500m (2.2 MB),
Bands Used: 1,4,3
Image Credit: MODIS Land Rapid Response Team, NASA GSFC