Fire-Generated Tornadic Vortices

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Neil Lareau, Nicholas J Nauslar, Evan Bentley, Matthew Roberts, Sammuel Emmerson, Brian Brong, Matthew Mehle, James Wallman


Fire-generated tornadic vortices (FGTVs) linked to pyrocumulonimbi (pyroCb) are a potentially deadly, yet poorly understood and seldom observed wildfire hazard. In this study we use radar and satellite observations to examine three FGTV cases during high impact wildfires during the 2020 fire season in California, USA. We establish that these FGTVs each exhibit tornado-strength anticyclonic rotation, with rotational velocity as strong as 30 m s-1 (60 kts), vortex depths of up to 5 km AGL, and pyroCb plume tops as high as 16 km MSL. These data suggest similarities to EF2+ strength tornadoes. Volumetric renderings of vortex and plume morphology reveal two types of vortices: embedded vortices anchored to the fire and residing within high reflectivity convective columns and shedding vortices that detach from the fire and move downstream. Time-averaged radar data further show that each case exhibits fire-generated meso-scale flow perturbations characterized by flow splitting around the fire’s updraft and pronounced flow reversal in the updraft’s lee. All the FGTVs occur during deep-pyroconvection, including pyroCb, suggesting an important role of both fire and cloud processes. The commonalities in plume and vortex morphology provide the basis for a conceptual model describing when, where, and why these FGTVs form.



Atmospheric Sciences, Meteorology


tornado, wildfire, Pyrocumulonimbus


Published: 2021-08-23 01:39

Last Updated: 2021-08-23 04:39


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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