Photo: Cathy Withers-Clarke/Shutterstock

‘Fire Tornadoes’ Are Tearing Through Northern California

California News
by Eben Diskin Aug 17, 2020

Nowadays even the most apocalyptic-sounding phenomena seem right in line with 2020. Meteorologists have issued a rare fire-related tornado warning for Northern California, after a massive wildfire resulted in tornado-like columns of flames.

The Loyalton fire started Friday night in the Tahoe National Forest and grew to 20,000 acres. By Sunday morning it hadn’t been contained at all, and was only expected to get worse. The rare weather event is believed to have been caused by the quick growth and intensity of the fire.

Shane Snyder, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, told the Los Angeles Times, “It was a first for us … It was hot; it was very unstable atmospherically, and that allowed the fire, which is burning very hot and [through] lots of fuel, to really explode up in a vertical sense, up into the atmosphere.”

Snyder added, “Hot air wants to rise, and if it’s very hot it wants to rise dramatically. It’s allowed to rise because the temperature of the air the fire makes is much warmer than the air around it. So it keeps rising until it’s not warmer than the air around it.”

This conflation of conditions can cause a column of smoke to rise tens of thousands of feet, creating a vortex underneath that pulls in air from all around.

A fire tornado has descended on California before, back in July 2018. It tore through Redding at up to 165 miles per hour, killing a firefighter and wreaking havoc on the local area.

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