LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. – The intensity inside of an out-of-control wildfire is rarely captured on film because of the obvious danger that is present. But with a smartphone almost constantly in hand these days, sometimes you’re just in the right place at the right time to document extreme conditions.
That is what happened to Lorri Provow near Masonville on Saturday. She captured some incredible pictures of a smoke tornado not too far from the local post office. The circulation appears to reach several thousand feet into the sky. So how does something like this form?
It all comes down to physics. One factor is the incredible heat inside the fire which creates strong areas of rising air called updrafts. Meanwhile strong westerly winds blowing over the complex terrain of Larimer County on Saturday created a downslope flow that at times reached speeds up to 80 mph.
If you have a pen or pencil nearby grab it and place it between the palms of your hands. One hand represents the updraft flow from the heat of the fire. The other hand will be the downslope flow of the wind over the terrain. Now move your hands back and forth in opposite directions. The pen or pencil should spin from the opposing movement of your hands. The same thing happens in the atmosphere. The opposing motion between updrafts and downdrafts creates rotation, or areas of spin.
Because of all of the smoke present on Saturday it was drawn into the circulation created in the atmosphere and the result was an amazing smoke tornado captured by Lorri. Now you see why we often say intense wildfires can create their own localized wind and weather patterns.
This video gives a quick look into the types of wind conditions us and other firefighters on Cameron Peak experienced and have been experiencing over the duration of the #cameronpeakfire #cofire pic.twitter.com/8WDfE1reTc
— COFirePrev&Control (@COStateFire) October 19, 2020