What Causes Dust Devils Anyhow?

NoHype Weather | Chris Martz

By Chris Martz

Earlier today, a rotating column of dust formed over a football field at Brooks Junior High School in Alberta, Canada.

These upward whirlwind, dusty, debris-filled vortexes of air are generally referred to as “dust devils,” although they are sometimes called “willy willys.”¹ ² ³ ⁴ Dust devils are generally formed in desert or dry areas and resemble tornadoes, however they are much shorter in height, ranging from 100 to 1,000 feet in height, and only 10 to 50 feet in diameter.² ⁴

diagram of how a dust devil forms
Dust-devil formation⁴ – WeatherQuestions.com

While tornadoes grow downward from funnel clouds in the sky, dust devils grow upwards from the ground due to irregularities near the surface.² ⁴ A heated surface allows convective rolls of air to form because…

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