WICHE: So that was a whirlwind

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I could see how supernatural attributes have been applied to whirlwinds the worldwide. It was eerily alive.

By Jeneen Wiche

I saw the strangest thing the other day: a bona fide whirlwind?  I was taking water to the ewes and lambs midday, and I looked up to see this swarm of plant material – and whatever else was in it – swirl around a viburnum.  It was hot out and only the slightest breeze was apparent. 

Because I was by myself, I had to comment to the sheep and the dogs, “Oh my gosh, look at that, that is so weird!” 

So I kept watching it, and it moved to another shrub. So I ran over to see if I could feel it too and, when  I got in the middle of it, it pelted me with plant debris. I moved away and watched it move down the driveway.

I could see how supernatural attributes have been applied to whirlwinds the worldwide. It was eerily alive.

The Navajo call it chiindii and believe that if the spin is clockwise the spirit is friendly. If it is counter-clockwise, it is malevolent.  My visitor thankfully had a clockwise spin to it!

So it seems the farm had its own little dust storm. I immediately thought about the folks in Phoenix  (and some close friends who live there) who are experiencing massive dust storms on what seems like a regular rotation.

So I had to look into this little phenomena, and this is what I found out: We had a dust devil. 

A dust devil is a whirlwind “that forms due to super-heated surface layers and stretched vorticity (which basically means something’s natural propensity to spin), most commonly on sunny, warm days with light winds.”

 So does this mean that if we really are warming we may see more whirlwinds major and minor?

Whirlwinds come in many forms and are categorized as major types and minor types. Major forms include tornadoes, waterspouts and landspouts; minor forms include intermediate events like a gustnado (yes, this is a real tem) and firewind (which I have witnessed when we burn our tall grass prairie in early spring). The lesser dust devils, steam devils and snow devils.

My little dust devil had the potential to create radio waves and an electrical field, too.  The debris particles that were swirling and banging into each other create noise and can become electrically charged.  That is pretty neat. 

In the desert southwest, the dust storm that descends on the city of Phoenix is a result of thunderstorm activity.  The summer brings the monsoon season, which brings thunderstorms that build and create power “blow downs” – blasting the dry desert dust – and then “blow outs,” creating a wall of dust that moves out from and in front of the actual thunderstorm. 

Last July the city experienced a record-breaking, 100-year dust storm that traveled 150 miles, was 1 mile high at its peak and had gusts up to 50 mph.

Nature never ceases to amaze me.  Pay close attention to your surroundings, and maybe you, too, will experience you own vertical column of spinning wind and debris. It’s weird but in a good way.


Check out gardening columnist Jeneen Wiche’s work at www.SwallowRailFarm.com. You can find her columns also at www.SentinelNews.com/agriculture. E-mail her at jwiche@shelbybb.net.