From Firenado to Water Spout

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Just a few years ago, fire tornadoes were almost fabled because they were so rarely captured on video. Now, with worsening wildfire seasons and cell phone cameras everywhere, there are new videos all the time. This video captures a fire tornado that sets off a water spout as it reaches the river (~1:15 in).

Neither the fire tornado or the water spout is truly tornadic; instead they are more like dust devils. They are driven by the rising heat of the fire. As cooler, ambient air flows inward to replace the rising air, it brings with it any vorticity it had. And, like an ice skater, the incoming air spins faster as it moves inward. This sets up both the fire tornado and the water spout’s vortices.

Although this is the first example I’ve seen video of, fire tornadoes have been known to create water spouts before. Lava flowing into the ocean can create whole trains of them. (Video credit: C. & A. Mackie; via Jean H.)

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