Fire tornado in California – new extreme disaster due to the climate change

    30 Aug 2021

    Scientists are learning more about fire tornadoes, the spinning funnels of flame, NPR reports.

    A fire tornado has been captured on video at the Tennant fire in northern California, BBC states.

    It is one of the latest signs of extreme weather threatening the US west, facing severe drought and record high temperatures. Thought rare, similar phenomena have been captured on video in recent years.

    Climate change is driving more prolonged and more intense wildfire seasons, and when fires get big enough, they can create their own extreme weather. That weather includes big funnels of smoke and flame called “fire tornadoes.” But the connection between the West’s increasingly severe fires and those tornadoes remains hazy.

    In late June, firefighters on the Tennant Fire in Northern California captured footage that went viral.

    A video posted on Facebook shows a funnel cloud glowing red from flame. It looks like a tornado, or more commonly, a dust devil. It’s almost apocalyptic as the swirl of smoke, wind, and flame approaches fire engines, heavy machinery, and a hotel sign swaying in the wind.

    Jason Forthofer, a firefighter and mechanical engineer at the U.S. Forest Service’s Missoula Fire Sciences Lab in Montana, said funnels like this one are called “fire whirls.” He said the difference between whirls and tornadoes is a matter of proportion.

    “Fire tornadoes are more of that, the larger version of a fire whirl, and they are really the size and scale of a regular tornado,” he said.

    Forthofer said the reason for the proliferation of images and videos like that whirl on the Tennant Fire might just be that people are keeping better track of them.

    “Most likely, it’s much easier to document them now because everybody walks around with a camera essentially in their pocket on their phone,” he said.

    The data’s too young to be sure, he said, but it is plausible fire tornadoes are occurring more often as fires grow more intense and the conditions that create them more frequent.

    The ingredients that create fire whirls are heat, rotating air, and conditions that stretch out that rotation along its axis, making it stronger.

    Forthofer can simulate those ingredients in a chamber in the lab. He heads towards an empty, 12-foot-tall tube and pours alcohol into its bottom, and then finds a lighter to get the flames going.

    A spinning funnel of fire, about a foot in diameter, shoots upward through the tube.

    In the real world, it’s hard to say how frequently fire whirls or tornadoes happened in the past since they often occur in remote areas with no one around. But Forthofer went looking for them; he found evidence of fire tornadoes as far back as 1871 when catastrophic fires hit Chicago and Wisconsin.

    “I realized that these giant tornado-sized fire whirls, let’s call them, happen more frequently than we thought, and a lot of firefighters didn’t even realize that was even a thing that was even possible,” Forthofer said.

    National Weather Service Meteorologist Julie Malingowski said fire tornadoes are rare but do happen. She gives firefighters weather updates on the ground during wildfires, which can be life or death information. She said the most essential day-to-day factors that dictate fire behavior, like wind, heat, and relative humidity, are a lot more mundane than those spinning funnels of flame.

    “Everything the fire does as far as spread, as soon as a fire breaks out, is reliant on what the weather’s doing around it,” Malingowski said.

    Researchers are tracking other extreme weather behavior produced by fires, like fire-generated thunderstorms from what are called pyrocumulonimbus clouds, or pyroCBs. Those thunderstorms can create dangerous conditions for fire behavior, including those necessary for fire tornadoes to occur.

    Michael Fromm, a meteorologist at the Naval Research Lab in Washington, D.C., said the information only goes back less than a decade, but the overall number of PyrcoCBs generated in North America this year is already higher than any other year in the dataset.

    “And the fire season isn’t even over yet,” he said.

    Video shows terrifying fire tornado forming in California

    A fire tornado took form in June in northern California near Oregon. The fire scorched through 10,580 acres and was 81% contained. The fire tornado is a rare occurrence, but it has happened before in California and elsewhere.

    Last summer, a fire tornado took form in northern California near Oregon as the state combats a heat wave and drought simultaneously.

    In a video by the U.S. Forest Service in Klamath National Forest, the fire-spawned incident was captured on June 29, according to Business Insider and lasted 30 minutes.

    Captain Tom Stokesberry said this was one of the first times a fire tornado was both measured on radar and captured by video, noting that the tornado uprooted some trees.

    A “firenado” is a swirl of smoke and fire that can only exist under extremely dry conditions, just like the situation the Pacific Northwest faces, The BBC reported.

    When swirling winds travel through wildfires, they become heated by the flames and carry their destruction via a tornado.

    The wildfire takes the shape of a vortex, stretching further into the skies and covering more ground.

    This is a rare occurrence, but it has been seen four times before in California, once in Missouri and once in Canada, where the tornado sucked up a fireman’s house. 

    Does anyone else doubt that climate change may demolish humanity?

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