Breakdown: Firenado-what are they & why they form

Published: Aug. 22, 2021 at 4:33 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) -In the Mid-South we are all too familiar with tornadoes but you may not know that some tornadoes can be made of fire.

Firenadoes have many names and are sometimes referred to as “fire whirls”, fire devils” and “fire twisters.” They are big columns of fire that rise, twisting high into the sky. They seem tornado-like but they don’t form the same way.

Firenadoes are more similar to dust devils in formation. Dust devils are swirling clouds of hot air, sand, and dirt. In order for a tornado to form, the atmospheric conditionals in the upper levels of the atmosphere have to be just right, however firenadoes and dust devils form from conditions closer to the ground.

In order for a firenado to form you need super hot, dry air with fire. When there is a lot of heat rising in a column of air the column can start to spin. The hotter the air the faster the spin and the cooler outside will spin slower.

As the air continues to rise and spin, it moves toward the center of the column. This allows the air to spin faster and faster. As it continues to spin it draws in things around it like dirt, or a fire. As the spinning air pulls fire into its rotation, the fire then twists and turns with the column.

Firnadoes usually happen during wildfires. They’re usually a few hundred feet tall and last a few minutes. However, much larger firenadoes have also been recorded.

In 2018, a firenado reaching 18,000 feet into the air was recorded in California. It was formed with the help of a cloud, combined with the upward movement of air. It’s one of only two firenadoes on record to do so, which made it similar to an actual tornado but most don’t form that way.

Thankfully firenadoes don’t normally last long, but they are still very dangerous and can be destructive.

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