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Indonesian volcano erupted so strongly, it spawned twisters

Daniel Martins
Digital Reporter

Monday, February 10, 2014, 6:00 PM -

Like volcanoes weren't already one of the most terrifying natural forces on Earth. Now it seems, if the conditions are right, volcanic eruptions can actually form tornado-like structures.

Go ahead to around the 1:20 mark in the video above, posted earlier this month to the YouTube channel of Photovolcanica, an extreme photography website.

The photographer captured the footage (sped up two times) in early February at Mt. Sinabung, a volcano on the island of Sumatra in western Indonesia.

It's been making the science-blogger rounds, including Slate's "Bad Astronomer" Phil Plait, who says the formations are more like dust devils than tornadoes, since they are formed when heat from the pyroclastic flows causes the air to rise.

That volcano had been best viewed from a distance, given its recent violent eruption, which sent ash and smoke into the air and pyroclastic flows down the mountainside (Here's what it looked like in January):

By that point, the volcano had been erupting almost continuously for almost four months, and the disaster claimed at least 16 lives in early February when a particularly violent burst caught thousands of nearby residents off-guard.

Many of the dead were previous evacuees returning to the area after they had been given the all-clear from local authorities, who believed Mt. Sinabung's activity was subsiding.

The Jakarta Post reported Monday that some of the estimated 30,000 evacuees will be allowed to return home this week.

With files from the Associated Press.

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