Fire Tornadoes: Nature's Fiery Spectacle
Nature is full of astonishing phenomena! There are the beautiful ones like rainbows, silvery clouds, and halos, and then there are the terrifying ones. We recently wrote about volcanic eruptions - it's horrifying to imagine cities being engulfed by molten lava. But there are other equally shocking spectacles - fire tornadoes.
Today, we discuss the reasons behind these phenomena and end by showcasing some of the most devastating examples.
How They Form
A fire tornado originates when several large fire sources combine. The heated air above them becomes less dense and rapidly rises. Cooler air currents from the surrounding area replace it at ground level, further fanning the flames. The more intense the fire and the rising air above it, the faster these currents become.
Due to the centripetal motion and high wind speeds, various objects can be drawn into the fire's epicenter – from dust to trees ripped out by the wind. Above this center, burning particles spiral upwards, dragging flames with them and forming fiery columns. Some can reach heights of over 1 km.
The temperature of these whirlwinds ranges around 1000-1500 °C. Another risk they pose is their ability to "shoot" burning debris, leading to new fires nearby.
Because of the rapid ascent of air, together with fire tornadoes, a unique type of cloud usually forms - the pyrocumulus or pyrocumulonimbus clouds. We will discuss these in one of our upcoming articles.
Where They Occur
Tornadoes can emerge anywhere extensive fires take place; they have no specific geography. For instance, in recent years, they've been frequently spotted in areas affected by intense forest fires - in the USA, Australia, Russia, Japan, and European countries.
Examples of Fire Tornadoes
— 1923, Japan: In just 15 minutes, a fire tornado resulting from an earthquake and the fires it caused throughout Tokyo took the lives of about 40,000 people.
— 1941-1945, World War II: Due to bombings during the war, heated tornadoes raged often. One of the largest was a tornado in Hamburg in 1943. Sparked by a massive citywide fire from bombings and reaching heights of nearly 500 meters, it led to the death of around 40,000 people. In 1945, in Dresden, a fire tornado claimed more than 20,000 lives. In that same year in Kobe, Japan, a fiery tornado took 7,000 lives. Later, a similar tornado occurred in Hiroshima after the nuclear strike.
— 2011, Hungary: A tornado emerged during a fire at a plastics manufacturing plant and completely destroyed the facility.
— 2012, Australia: Fire tornadoes in this hot country are almost an annual occurrence. In 2012, a tornado formed precisely where director Chris Tendji was filming. He managed to capture the terrifying phenomenon on film.
— 2023, Chile: This disaster led to the death of over 20 people and the destruction of 800 homes.
We wish you only wonderful natural phenomena! Remember, to choose the best day for stargazing or to plan an extended trip out of town to admire spring-summer clouds, our precipitation map can assist you.