Commonly called fire tornadoes, these terrifying vortices often occur in large wildfires and have more in common with dust devils or waterspouts than true tornadoes. They form when warm, buoyant air rises due to the fire’s heat. This creates low pressure over the fire source and draws in fresh, cooler air from the surroundings. If there is any small vorticity or rotational motion to that surrounding air, its spin will be amplified as it gets drawn in. This is akin to an ice skater spinning faster when she pulls her arms in – it’s a result of conservation of angular momentum. That intensification of the air’s rotation is what forms the vortex, which we see here due to the flames it draws upward. This footage was captured yesterday by crews fighting fires in Missouri. (Image credit: Southern Platte Fire Protection District/WCPO 9, source)
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