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Incendiary Whirlwinds Called 'Firenadoes' Rampage in Missouri

Hell on earth manifested itself during intense grass fires near Kansas City.

What counts as bad weather in hell? How about tornadoes wrapped not in rain but choking smoke and fire.

Emergency personnel yesterday had the opportunity to dance with such devilish twisters during grass fires in Platte County, Missouri, northwest of Kansas City. They were small compared to such monstrosities as this pillar of flame in an Oregon blaze, but there’s no such thing as an unimpressive “firenado.” Indeed, whoever narrated the above video nailed it when calling them “freakin’ awesome.”

Here’s what constitutes a “firenado,” according to meteorologist Tom Skilling:

A firenado is an intense tornado-like whirlwind that forms in the plume of heated air rising above a large fire. It is made visible by smoke and, if the fire is large enough, by flame drawn into the whirl.

Like a tornado, a firenado exists within a column of warm, rising air. But unlike a tornado that begins within the updraft contained in a cumulonimbus (thunderhead) cloud and then builds downward, eventually making contact with the ground, a firenado starts as a ground-level whirl and then builds upward.

These incendiary apparitions had the perfect conditions to rampage, with strong winds and extremely dry weather, but thanks to the work of firefighters amounted to little more than a cool video. Here are more scenes from the fire:

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.