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Forest fires and wildfires are undeniably bad, but the amount of damage caused by fire tornadoes is unmatched.
A fire whirl or fire tornado is not an actual tornado that forms a vortex around a cloud. Its vortex is formed because of the upward movement of warm wind during a forest fire.
In places that have dry weather conditions, such as the state of California, wildfires are common. Where there is fire, there is heat and hot air. When hot air rises up in the air during a wildfire, it forms columns, which then suck in combustible gases, debris, ash, and smoke towards the center. It is due to such a turn of events that firenadoes form.
Even though fire whirls only last for a couple of minutes, the damage that they cause is often extensive. The best way to survive one would be to keep away. Keep reading to know more about fire tornadoes!
When it comes to firenadoes, the name is suggestive enough of the actual phenomenon. The term firenado is a culmination of two words, namely 'fire' and 'tornado'. As if tornadoes were not scary enough in themselves, we now have to deal with tornadoes made of fire as well!
A fire tornado or firenado is known by a couple of different names, such as a fire devil, fire twister, and fire whirl. In any case, this phenomenon is deeply concerning and can cause large-scale damage. Firenadoes are mostly rare since they require the perfect concoction of extreme fire behavior and a whirlwind or crosswind. Fire tornadoes are not considered to be true tornadoes since their mode of formation is not the same. While actual tornadoes depend on the conditions of the atmosphere, fire tornadoes are mostly started from conditions of the ground. Fire tornadoes usually start from wildfires, and there is a very simple recipe to them. If you simply mix extreme wildfires with crosswinds and dry air, a fire tornado is created. The intensity of a fire tornado, however, is dependent on the nature of the winds as well as the intensity of the wildfire itself. Fire tornadoes are scary and can wreck a lot of havoc since they cannot be calmed by firefighters. Since the path that a fire tornado might take is largely unpredictable given how swiftly the winds can change their course, officials are left with little to do other than issue a warning about a possible fire tornado.
Fire tornadoes or fire whirls are formed at sites of wildfires. As we know, hot air rises up in the atmosphere. Since wildfires are so intense, they cause intense rising heat. If you have built a bonfire before, you might have noticed how we blow air into the fire to stir it up and to make it grow stronger. The same happens in the case of wildfires as well. Although, in such cases, the winds are crosswinds from nearby mountains. As the hot air rises up and the incoming wind stirs up the fire and makes it stronger, the burning area increases, and the fire rises up to trace the hot air.
Fire tornadoes take place in a small area, to begin with, and as they gain momentum, the diameter of the area that they consume increases. The rising air only comes from a small area. In such cases, the hot air forms columns. With the addition of more and more hot air and flames in the air, the column begins to spin around a center. As we know from lessons in a circular motion, the spin is strongest towards the center. As the column keeps spinning faster and faster, more air rushes in, and new fires are added to the tornado. Fire tornadoes are especially dangerous since they not only take debris and ashes towards the inside of the spinning column but also throw embers and flames everywhere. This can cause widespread damage and form a greater diameter of the tornado than what existed to begin with.
It is common for a fire tornado to only originate at places that are near mountains. When a wildfire of considerable intensity breaks out near a mountain range, the flames are constantly fed by crosswinds, which aggravates the situation and increases the burning area. However, a wildfire in any open area can turn into a fire tornado if there are suitable conditions.
Uprooted trees, swirling fire, burned forests, ash and debris and dark clouds possibly catching fire is not a welcome sight. The weather conditions of a place have to be especially dry in order to start a wildfire in the first place, which is common in places like California. The most recent fire tornado took place in California, wherein the weather department could not do much other than issue a warning about the vortex of such a calamity possibly forming.
If you are wondering what can happen in such weather, the first thing to expect would be reduced visibility in the surrounding area. Since the vortex of a fire tornado pulls in ash, smoke, and debris, the area visible to someone would be dangerously low. This is one of the reasons why a fire tornado is considered to be far more dangerous than a wildfire. The mountainous wind shear combined with the extreme amounts of smoke create troubles for anyone who is trying to follow safety protocols. Even though fire whirls are rare, they are to be treated with just as much caution as an earthquake or an actual tornado.
The most recent event was a forest fire in California. It was a part of the infamous Carr Fire and reached a spectacular 18,000 ft (5,486.4 m) into the air. During the Carr Fire, a vortex formed due to the rising air, which then gave rise to a fire whirl. One of the most interesting facts about this particular event was that it formed with the help of a cloud, which is not common for fire whirls. Even though the weather department of the state issued a timely warning, there was not much else to do in the situation.
A fire whirl may be rare, but the uncertainty of its trajectory is one of the most concerning factors. The ground around the site is always astir of smoke, which reduces visibility, and such fires often tend to move quickly, which is why they must always be avoided in spite of how glorious they look!
There are three types of fire whirls. The first type is one that is stable and centered over a burning area, the second type can be stable or transient and downwind of a burning area, and the third type can be steady or transient and centered over a burning area which is next to an asymmetrical burning area. All of these types are dangerous, and the type which is formed at a specific place is decided by topography.
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