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UNR scientists find causes of firenado in deadly Carr Fire

A destructive fire-generated vortex – a massive stream of rising, spinning, smoke, ash and fire – that topped out at 17,000 feet above the earth, accelerated the Carr Fire that killed eight people and devastated a widespread area in the Redding, California region in July 2018. The vortex, a little-observed atmospheric phenomena, was spinning with the power of a class three tornado, which earned it the name of Firenado.

Atmospheric scientist in the University of Nevada, Reno Department of Physics Neil Lareau has authored a paper in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters documenting the rare firenado, finding a number of factors that combined at just the right time and place to catalyze the deadly fire. These observations may help forecasters and scientists identify – and potentially warn – for future destructive fire-generated vortices.

Co-authors of the article are Nicholas Nausler of the NOAA/NWS/NCEP Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma and John Abatzoglou from the Department of Geography at University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho.

Funding for this work was provided, in part, by the National Science Foundation and the University of Nevada, Reno Research and Innovation Office.

The research article, “The Carr Fire Vortex: A Case of Pyrotornadogenesis?” was published in the American Geophysical Union’s scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.


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