The Next Big Thing to Be Terrified of: A Firenado
Fires mixed with severe winds can lead to a rare and terrifying weather condition known as a fire tornado, or more informally as a firenado.
You know, it’s not like the world doesn’t have enough ways to kill us. From earthquakes to hurricanes, from mudslides to tsunamis there’s a variety of death waiting out there for us puny meatbags. So it’s really not fair when the Earth goes and just starts mixing a few of the most devastating forms together. And we’re not even talking about all the ways Australia can kill you.
Enter the “firenado.”
Not to be confused with the bewilderingly popular Sharknado movies, a firenado is… well, it’s about what you’d expect with a name that combines fire and tornado. When the exact right conditions (or wrong conditions, depending on your point of view) happen, a funnel of fire twisting into a pillar can form, leaving devastation in its wake.
Thankfully they are rare, but that makes it even weirder that a pair of them were just spotted in the last two weeks.
The first was spotted in Albert Village, England, when a fire at a plastic factory mixed with strong winds and turned into a brief and contained firenado. The fire was devastating in its own right, but it was also, mercifully, limited to the factory, which was itself mostly isolated.
The plastics burned for a long time, causing a massive and destructive plume of ink-black smoke, which contributed to the weather patterns. Circling winds affected by the flames paired with a fire that had plenty of reserves of fuel caused a fiery twister caught on tape.
On their own, firenados are almost pretty when seen from a distance. Not a “beautiful fire will cleanse this rotten world, hur hur” sort of way, but a “the colors look interesting as they spin.” You can see an example below, courtesy of the BBC.
Of course, the Albert Village firenado was self-contained and more of an oddity than anything else. The second firenado was much scarier.
The Carr Fire is currently blazing in Northern California, and it is one of the worst wildfires in California history. Hundreds of thousands of acres have been burned, and more will follow. Part of the reason for the severity (or at least one of the many reasons), is the extreme winds.
On July 26, the winds affecting one portion of the fire reached 143 mph, which would put it on the same level as an EF3 tornado. If it had formed in a specific way to become an actual, traditional tornado, it would have been the strongest tornado in California history. The winds formed a plume that was recorded at 35,000-feet-tall, well over 100 miles, and in the center of it was a pillar of fire.
The winds uprooted trees, tore up power lines, and took out full metal towers. It was a nightmare come to life and a stark reminder of how powerful and ferocious nature can be.
You can see a glimpse of it below.
— Craig Padilla (@CraigPadilla) July 27, 2018