What Is a Fire Tornado?

Date:7 August 2018 Author: Asheeqah Howa Tags:,

It’s not actually a tornado. But it spun with the power of a Category 3.

carr fire trees

The chaotic and destructive Carr Fire in northern California has finally been quelled. But authorities and weather experts are still horrified by a rare event that took place within the fire: a fire vortex, also known as a fire whirl or a fire tornado.

Fire vortices are not tornados in a true sense, but they represent a level of devastation not commonly seen. The phenomenon has more in common with dust storms: a gust of hot air blows through the fire at the right angle and creates a spinning momentum. Instead of dust, the wind captures the physical aspects of the fire like embers and flaming debris, and sets them spinning.

While many aspects of fire vortices are still unknown, such as why they dramatically increase both the height of the flames and burning rate of the fire, they known to be two things: short and destructive. A typical fire tornado only lasts a few minutes.

That is what makes the Carr Fire vortex so shocking: It lasted an hour and a half. And what’s more, it ran right through Redding, a city of 90,000 near Oregon. With winds “in excess of 143 mph,” according the National Weather Service, the fire vortex was unusually destructive even by the standards of its predecessors. Using the Enhanced Fujita scale, it would be a class 3 tornado on its own.

“You’re starting with a rare event to begin with, and for it to actually impact a populated area makes it even rarer,” says Neil Lareau of the University of Nevada, speaking to the Los Angeles Times.

Lareau has been studying the fire vortex through radar, and estimates it grew to 500 yards before contracting. The data shows the vortex hitting very close, within a few hundred feet, of one of the Carr Fire’s worst tragedies: the deaths of Melody Bledsoe, 70, and her great-grandchildren, Emily, 4, and James Roberts, 5.

There will be a lot to study in the Carr Fire, the sixth-worst fire in the history of a state that gets them regularly. Two things that are clear: the fire, and the accompanying fire vortex, were made worse because of manmade climate change. And the second: fire season isn’t over. While the Carr Fire has been put out, a fire in another northern area, Mendocino County, is causing evacuations.

Source: LA Times

 Previously published by: Popular Mechanics USA



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