Fire tornadoes are deadly. They can rip through hundreds of acres of land, and destroy whole environments in less than an hour. But they’re also one of the world’s most fascinating phenomenons being at once incredibly mesmerising, yet horrifically savage.
Fire tornadoes are in fact incredibly rare, and people often mistake fire whirls for fire tornadoes. So what’s the difference and what actually causes one of the world’s rarest phenomenons?
Literal fire tornadoes are very rare and are a result of an enormous wildfire generating a pyrocumulonimbus cloud. These clouds are formed as a result of rising thermals from a fire. They can generate what is known as a supercell thunderstorm which then spawns a fire tornado.
Fire whirls are sometimes mistaken as fire tornadoes. Fire whirls appear very similar but these are not literal tornadoes. Their vorticity derives from surface winds and heat-induced lifting, rather than a tornado-inducing mesocyclone. Likewise fire whirls are anchored to the ground unlike fire tornadoes which are anchored to a tundercloud above.
In both cases fire tornadoes and whirls often occur in dry environments prone to forest fires. Both spiralling structures gather burning debris, ashes, dust and combustible gases to get bigger and more ferocious.
The first proper fire tornado ever recorded was during the January 2003 Canberra fires in Australia. The tornado and associated fire killed four people and injured 492.
To get a better understanding of fire tornadoes The Slow Mo Guys decided to create one. The Slow Mo Guys, otherwise known as Gav and Dan, are famous for creating popular videos of things in slow motion. This one certainly doesn’t disappoint.
As you can see this fire tornado isn’t actually an officially tornado, given it is anchored to the ground and there isn’t a thunderstorm. However the principal is similar and the incredible slow-mo footage gives a unique perspective into this incredible event.
Watch the video here:
In slow motion you can really grasp the power of this natural spectacle. In wind speed alone, fire whirls and tornadoes can reach over 100mph which is enough to knock down trees and houses. Combined with the amount of heat, smoke and blaze, you can easily understand how these forms devour whole environments in little to no time.
Featured image via Flickr/ Barry Mulling