Who had fire tornado on their 2020 disaster bingo card?

Published: Aug. 16, 2020 at 1:41 PM PDT
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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) -Who had fire tornado on their 2020 disaster bingo card?

The National Weather Service in Reno on Saturday warned of a tornado caused by the Loyalton Fire in California west of Reno.

The weather service can’t say for sure that warning has never been given in the United States before, but no one can find a record of it, Senior Meteorologist Dawn Johnson said.

Once more, there may have been more than one.

Using radar, the weather service counted five vortices – the plural of vortex – but they’re not sure how many of them touched down, a requirement to be labeled a tornado. Photographs and videos they have seen show at least one did.

“We don’t know if there was one or multiple,” Johnson said.

With common tornadoes, weather observers can go out afterwards and make an assessment. With the 20,000-acre Loyalton Fire still burning, that’s not possible, Johnson said.

Here’s how the firenado happened: The Loyalton Fire exhibited extreme fire behavior by burning incredibly hot and incredibly intense, Johnson said. The smoke plume rose to 30,000 feet, like what you might see in a thunderstorm.

Air on the surface rushes in to replace rising air. And then the wind speed changes direction with height, helping rotate the air. As it elongates, it starts spinning, which causes the fire tornado.

Johnson said the weather service crew working Saturday had no formal method to get word out that the fire could form a tornado, so the weather service went with a conventional tornado warning and pegged it to the Loyalton Fire.

“We wanted to save lives, we wanted to make sure firefighters on front line could get to safety as fast as possible,” Johnson said.

A day after the fire tornado warning, Johnson said she hopes people take evacuation warnings seriously.

“If you don’t have to be up in that area, do stay away,” she said.

The fire on Sunday dumped a lot of smoke in western Nevada. That smoke impact will likely continue.

She urged people to check to get their local air conditions.

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