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Dust-devil in Alberta captured on camera from a distance

Huge dust devil towers over Alberta city

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Tuesday, April 12, 2016, 8:18 PM - People on the Prairies are no strangers to dust devils (or tornadoes, for that matter), but the one in the video above, shot in the Alberta city of Airdrie, is more gigantic than most.

Matt Norton, who shot the video, said the winds had picked up just before, and he was drawn to the window by the sound of chairs being knocked over in the backyard. That's when he saw the dust devil and started recording.

"I was pretty sure it wasn't too dangerous but was happy to see it moving away from us," Norton told The Weather Network. "I'm a Flight Dispatcher for WestJet so I get to deal with weather on a daily basis but I've never seen anything like that before."

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Several others captured the dust devil on social media.

Here's a tweet that really hammers home the sheer size of the thing, towering a couple of hundred metres above the neighbourhood's town homes:

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Though often compared to tornadoes, dust devils are typically harmless, and are actually a totally different phenomenon.

Both require wind sheer -- winds blowing in different directions at different levels in the atmosphere, inducing spinning -- but tornadoes are always attached to the bottom of severe thunderstorms. They feature winds with gusts of hundreds of kilometres an hour and are some of nature's most destructive forces.

Dust devils, by contrast, are not formed by thunderstorms, but rather require air rising rapidly from the warm ground.

While it looks scary, and anyone standing under one would be buffeted by the winds, they are nowhere near as powerful as tornadoes. While tornadoes can cause severe property damage, even rip a house off its foundations, dust devils are typically only strong enough to move small objects, though they have been known to lift lightweight sheds.

"If this happened over grass, it might not even have been visible," Weather Network meteorologist Tyler Hamilton says.

BONUS: Step inside this Australian dust devil

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