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What is a 'firenado'? Internet baffled after California issues America’s first-ever warning for fire tornado

A rare, fiery tornado was spotted in California on August 15 near the Nevada border where a large wildfire and excessive temperatures created a dangerous storm
UPDATED AUG 16, 2020
California Firenado/ National Weather Service (Twitter)
California Firenado/ National Weather Service (Twitter)

It seems like 2020 is indeed becoming a more dreadful year as the months go by. In a rare spectacle, a fiery tornado emerged in California on August 15 near the Nevada border. The reported reason behind the emergence of this occurence is large wildfires and excessive temperatures creating a dangerous storm. The fire tornado or ‘firenado’ triggered a warning from the National Weather Service in Reno shortly before 3 pm near the Loyalton fire, which started in Sierra in the Tahoe National Forest. Cautioning people, the weather service tweeted, “Extremely dangerous fire behavior noted on the Loyalton Fire! Rotating columns and potential for fire whirls. Responders should exercise extreme caution!!!”



Truckee Meadows Fire & Rescue who provided support to the teams fighting the Loyalton fire on the California side tweeted saying "CLOSE CALL. #TMFR Brush Engine 44 on scene earlier today as #LoyaltonFire jumped HWY 395 with vehicles stuck on the road. The crew provided protection and got the vehicles out of harms way. No injuries."

Wendell Hohmann, the NWS forecaster who wrote the tornado warning said that it was the first time to his knowledge of a tornado warning of this nature.
“It’s probably the first time it’s been issued outside of a thunderstorm environment." It is the first known issuance of a tornado warning for the climate phenomenon since the deadly Carr Fire in 2018, reports the Sacramento Bee. 

Later the NWS Reno handle tweeted that the tornado warning is only impacting the Loyalton fire area, not any other locations. In another tweet, it mentioned that the tornado has weakened but strong winds remained possible. “The tornadic pyrocumulus has weakened & the immediate threat of tornadic activity has decreased for the #LoyaltonFire. Extreme fire behavior will continue into this evening w/new Fire Tornadoes & strong gusts in excess of 60 mph remain possible. Stay away from the fire area.”


It tweeted that the gusty outflow winds from thunderstorms were witnessed across the western NV Basin and Range region through at least 6.15 pm. It mentioned that wind gusts to 50 mph will cause blowing dust to lower visibility below one mile at times and that lightning is also a threat including on the Lahontan Reservoir. The US National Weather Service predicted on August 15 that the heatwave across the western third of the US looks to continue through the remainder of the weekend and into the start of the upcoming week. There is no shortage of Excessive Heat Warnings/Watches and Heat Advisories from the US/Mexico border where California lies, on the north to the US/Canada border. It states that some daily record highs and warm lows are expected with parts of the Southern Plains showing sweltering temperatures. 

What is Firenado

‘Firenados’, sometimes referred to as “fire whirls” or “fire devils”, are whirlwinds induced by ash and flame. They rise like towers twisting into the air and appear like a tornado. They are composite clouds of hot air, sand, dirt, and dust and form much closer to the ground level. The main cause behind them is the rise of heat in a small region that goes upwards and spins while moving toward the center of the towering column. This allows the air to spin faster and move unabashedly forming one of the most horrifying natural phenomena, reads a description in LiveScience.

A wildfire-induced tornado of hot ash dances across a ridgetop as the sun sets May 13, 2002 near Rancho Santa Margarita, CA. The fire consumed about 1,100 acres in less than six hours and seriously threatened 200 homes. Because the region is experiencing what may be the dryest season on record, native vegatation has a very low moisture content causing the official fire season to begin about six weeks earlier than usual. An extremely dangerous fire season is widely predicted for southern California this year.

Internet left scratching their heads

While meteorologists will monitor the situation as a multi-day head wave continues to burn the region, the Internet is baffled at this rare fire tornado which has incited warnings for the first time in history. People are bemused on the “crazy year” 2020 is, given it is turning out to be more terrible every passing day. Bewildered by the frightful, first-in-history fire tornado, people are calling it “divine, gorgeous and unbelievable”. “For the first time in history, a tornado warning has been issued for a likely fire tornado. These are not fire whirls. This is a rotating smoke plume being ingested into a pyrocumulonimbus cloud that could produce a bonafide fire-induced tornado”, tweeted Washington Post meteorologist/reporter Matthew Cappucci. 


“Who had fire tornado on their list of things left that could happen in 2020? Well, CA officially had the first Fire Tornado in history today! Like the things that are happening is crazy,” tweeted actor Brad Everett Young.


Ed Piotrowski who is ABC 15's Chief Meteorologist tweeted, “Who had fire-induced tornado warning on their 2020 bingo card? Because of this rotating Pyrocumulonimbus cloud (thunderstorm created by a large wildfire), the first-ever fire tornado warning was issued earlier today for a country in northern California”.


Others mocked the shocking spectacle. “Historian: When was the first fire tornado? Me: 2020. The historian:” 


“Image of the fire tornado in Lassen Co., CA today. divine. gorgeous. Unbelievable,” tweeted a user. 


“A fire tornado in California because it wouldn’t be 2020 without one”, wrote another.