In Southern California, climate change induced drought is fueling strong winds which are fanning wildfires and spawning what is known as “firenadoes.” Also known as fire whirls these spiraling column shaped vortexes of flames look like something out of an apocalyptic vision.
The key components of firenadoes, are the related elements of drought and strong winds. In the case of the fires in Southern California, Santa Ana winds are funneling warm and dry air toward the coast, when high pressure moves over the deserts of inland California it reverses the typical west-to-east wind flow from the ocean. During a drought, these Santa Ana winds drastically drop humidity levels which cause hurricane force winds in the mountains.
Although firenadoes can occur with any sized fire, they are more commonly associated with large fires. They are created by cool air rushing to take the place of hot air which form vortexes. Firenadoes are more likely to occur where winds are forced to change directions, such as near a grove of trees. Firenadoes range in size from less than 1 foot to more than 500 feet in diameter.
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