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Hurricane-looking vortex off California coast is a must see

Erin Wenckstern

Saturday, February 3, 2018, 10:51 AM - A vortex swirled in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast this week, entrancing the weather community and reminding the entire world that our atmosphere is the coolest.

With the menacing look of a hurricane you'd be tempted to think it's just a miniature version, but this beautiful atmospheric creation forms under very different conditions and is known as a von Kármán vortex, named after Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian-American engineer and fluid mechanics expert.

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Von Kármán vortices form when flowing air bumps into an obstacle, in this case San Clemente island near San Diego, California, and the increasingly turbulent flow casts off a vortex in the island's wake and developing clouds make the vortex visible.

Image courtesy of NOAA's GOES-East satellite.

If you want the full-effect, watch the video below of the complete life cycle of this von Kármán vortex posted initially by Dakota Smith, a researcher at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

To give you another incredible shot, a lucky pilot also happened to fly by it on a flight heading west of San Diego.

While the phenomena is breathtaking to see, it's been captured before and occasionally produces a cascade of swirling vortices past obstacles. In this case, it's called von Kármán vortex streets.

Vortices on the lee side of Guadalupe Island in 2017. Credit: NASA

Vortices off Alexander Selkirk Island in the southern Pacific Ocean in 1999. Credit: NASA

Watch below: Volcanic eruption caught on camera

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