Tornado of Fire: Australian Researchers Confirm Pyro-Tornadogenesis

Monday, 19 Nov 2012 11:09 AM

By William Dennings

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An Australian study has uncovered evidence of tornadoes made of fire, the first documented instance of such phenomena. Researchers have for years theorized such weather events are possible, but had yet to actually discover one of the natural hazards, media outlets in Australia reported.

This occurrence is different than fire whirls, which are relatively common contrivances of large wildfires. In those cases, the fire is anchored to the hot ground. In the case of fire tornadoes, the column of fire is anchored to the underside of a thundercloud. It is the actual combination of a genuine tornado and a large fire that is particularly worrisome.

Researchers call the weather event a pyro-tornadogenesis, according to ABC New Australia. The study confirmed the existence of the fire tornado in Canberra, Australia, during a 2003 brush fire. The severity of the tornado was a two out of five on the Enhanced Fujita scale of tornado severity.

"The one that we looked at showed that as it approached the edge of Canberra, its basal diameter was nearly half a kilometer, and the damage indicates that the horizontal wind speeds around it were in excess of 250 kilometers per hour," researcher Rick McRae told ABC Australia. For a reference on the U.S. conversion, that’s a tornado made of fire, about a third of a mile across, featuring wind speeds of 155 miles per hour.

"The tornado formed in the plume of the McIntyres Hut Fire mid-afternoon on January 18, 2003, and initially crossed the Brindabella Ranges adjacent to Mt Coree. It then moved through Uriarra and Pierces Creek Pine Plantations and grazed the edge of the suburb of Chapman. The fire tornado faded as it entered Kambah, south of Mt Taylor," McRae said.

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