NBC News: CALIFORNIA, USA – A rare, fiery tornado was spotted in California on Saturday near the Nevada border where a large wildfire and excessive temperatures created a perfect, but dangerous, storm.
The fire tornado, or firenado, prompted a tornado warning from the National Weather Service in Reno shortly before 3pm near the Loyalton fire, which started in Sierra County in the Tahoe National Forest.
“The big concern is that it’s extremely erratic fire behavior,” said John Mittelstadt, a Reno-based meteorologist with the National Weather Service.
“For any of the firefighters who are working on one flank of the fire, all of a sudden, there is no way to predict what the winds are going to do or how strong they are going to be,” he added.
The fire near Loyalton that started Saturday had burned more than 2,000 acres by evening.
Firenados are created when rising hot air from a fire becomes twisted by winds changing direction, much like the more common land tornado. The difference between a regular tornado and the firenado, however, is that winds combine with smoke plums to create especially dangerous conditions.
Although uncommon, firenados do happen.
In Saturday’s firenado, wind gusts reached about 60 mph, according to Mittelstadt.
Meteorologists will continue to monitor conditions across California and much of the western United States as a multi-day heat wave continues to scorch the region. On Friday, excessive temperatures caused rolling blackouts across California as the state’s power grid was overwhelmed.
“These conditions can lead to more firenados for sure,” Mittelstadt said. “Everyone need to be very alert and very careful not to create any sparks so that we can avoid any human-caused fires.”
Meanwhile, CBS News reports extreme heat hits California, spurring rolling power outages for first time since 2011.
For the first time since 2011, California ordered rolling power outages on Friday night. Officials warned there may be additional blackouts to come over the weekend.
The California Independent System Operator (California ISO) declared a Stage 3 electrical emergency on Friday, ordering utilities to take measures to lighten the power load and initiating rotating outages throughout the state.
By 10pm, the power outages were lifted. But more are expected Saturday, CBS Los Angeles reports.
The ongoing heat spell – sending temperatures soaring into the triple digits – is raising concerns about crowds flocking to the beach amid the coronavirus pandemic. Officials are encouraging the public to find a safe location to beat the heat and to check on elderly neighbors who may be more susceptible to heat-related illnesses.
“Over the past decade, the heat wave in California have caused more human harm than those things put together,” said Daniel Swain, a UCLA scientist, of earthquakes and wildfires. “Heat waves and heat extremes are sort of an underestimated killer.”
The hot spell is expected to last through next week.