NWS: ‘Fire tornado’ warning issued to some California residents

NASA calls the event the 'fire-breathing dragon of clouds'

Lightning forks over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as a storm passes over Oakland, Calif., Sunday, Aug. 16, 2020. Numerous lightning strikes early Sunday sparked brush fires throughout the region. (AP Photo/Noah Berger) (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

LASSEN COUNTY, CALIFORNIA – On Saturday, the National Weather Service in Reno, Nevada issued a strange, and perhaps a once-in-a-lifetime weather occurrence: a warning of a fire-induced tornado.

The warning from the weather office stated that a pyrocumulonimbus, a storm made up of both smoke and fire and usually a thunderstorm, was capable of producing a fire-induced tornado with outflow winds exceeding 60 miles per hour.

“A pyrocumulonimbus from the Loyalton Wildfire is capable of producing a fire-induced tornado and outflow winds in excess of 60 mph was located south of Chilcoot, and is nearly stationary,” the warning stated. “Extreme fire behavior with strong outflow winds capable of downing trees and starting new fires. This is an extremely dangerous situation for firefighters.”

NASA calls this type of storm the “fire-breathing dragon of clouds.”

NWS warning, Aug. 16, 2020. (Copyright 2020 by KSAT - All rights reserved.)

National Weather Service Senior Meteorologist Dawn Johnson said it’s not quite like a traditional tornado.

“So, this fire, the thunderstorm if you will, and because of wind shear was able to generate a tornado within the fire,” Johnson said. “So, it wasn’t a traditional tornado like you would see coming from a thunderstorm, but it had all the marks of a tornado but in a fire.”

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