The Science Behind Fire Whirls and The Extensive Damage One Left In California

August 2, 2018 0 Comments

If you’ve been watching our newscasts lately or been paying attention to national news you’ve likely seen the devastating wild fires in the west, specifically California. We’ve all seen photos or videos of wildfires, but something less common is a fire whirl, also sometimes called a fire tornado or firenado.

These technically are not true tornadoes because by definition, a tornado must connect from the cloud base to the surface. Fire whirls are more like dust devils and usually only extend upward of 100-150 feet. These typically last only a few minutes, but can at times last longer and produce high winds.

(photo: CNN)

Fire whirls form when hot air is lifted up, and proper wind conditions create a circulation. This circulation is stretched upward as air continues to rise, and more hot air, along with debris and ash, are sucked into the center of circulation.

(photo: ABC News)

While most fire whirls are brief and don’t do much wind damage, they can occasionally become strong. This was the case in Redding, California last week when a fire whirl created winds of over 140 mph! This is equivalent to an EF-3 tornado.

(photo: NWS Sacramento)

Take a look at some of the damage caused by this fire whirl. As you can see. it was strong enough to uproot trees and collapse power lines.

(photo: LA Times)

Unfortunately, Red Flag Warnings and increased fire danger will continue into the weekend for Redding.

-Chief Meteorologist Brian Walder

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