California wildfires spawn 'firenado'
Friday, May 16, 2014, 8:57 AM - From whirlwinds of smoke caused by the heat and winds, to swirling flames that rise out of the burning vegetation, the wildfires in southern California seem to have lives of their own.
"The conditions, unfortunately, in southern California have just been ripe with the large winds, the Santa Ana winds, and we have been very, very dry. All the foliage has been very dry," says San Marcos Mayor, Jim Desmond.
A number of houses have already been destroyed and over 15,000 people evacuated. Officials say at least one death has been reported so far.
As crews continue to battle the raging wildfires, many have taken to social media to report the "tornado-like flaming vortexes captured in photos from the front lines."
"Although the source of energy for a fire whirl is very different than for a tornado - the tornado gets it from storm cloud above, while the fire whirl's energy comes from the fire below - they form in roughly the same way," says Weather Network digital meteorologist Scott Sutherland.
"The atmosphere naturally sets up rolling 'tubes' of air above the ground, as friction slows down the winds closest to the ground, which then introduces a drag on the winds above, pulling them down slightly, and this cascades upward. When these kinds of tubes encounter a powerful updraft, like the ones flowing into the bottom of a thunderstorm or the ones created by the heated air from a roaring fire, the tube turns from horizontal to vertical and the updraft causes it to rotate faster and tighten up into these powerful spinning vortexes."
Sutherland adds that although fire whirls can be smaller in nature, they can also get very large, up to the strength of an EF2 or even EF3 tornado.