Gulf waterspouts, Phoenix dust storm, Las Vegas dust devils: wild weather (PHOTOS AND VIDEO)


Twin waterspouts offshore Grand Isle, La. (Tim Osborn, NOAA )

Waterspouts in the Gulf Coast states

On Wednesday, NOAA employee Tim Osborn photographed twin waterspouts just offshore Grand Isle, Louisiana.


Twin waterspouts offshore Grand Isle, La. (Tim Osborn, NOAA )

The tornadic waterspouts may often begin as tornadoes over land and then move over water. They also form in severe thunderstorms over a body of water. They can wreak havoc with high winds, hail, and dangerous lightning.

Fair weather waterspouts develop in calmer weather. They form only over open water, developing at the surface and actually climbing skyward towards the clouds.

Related: Detailed blog post about these waterspouts/tornadoes, how they should be classified, and how they formed

The Grand Isle waterspouts were tornadic, and actually merged and came ashore officially as a tornado according to CNN. The twister caused minor damage in Grand Isle.

Multiple waterspouts were also photographed in Mobile Bay in southern Alabama Wednesday morning.

Related: Tornado or waterspout spotted in Ocean City, Maryland

Phoenix dust storm or haboob

While waterspouts swirled over the Gulf of Mexico,outflow winds from a thunderstorm in the vicinity of Phoenix blew up a dust storm or haboob. Photographer Mike Olbinski captured this amazing video which does a wonderful job of illustrating how the dust storm formed Wednesday:

Related: Inside the Phoenix, Arizona dust storm, or “haboob” (July 6, 2011)

Las Vegas dust devils

Two days before the waterspout and dust storm spectacles, destructive dust devils swept through the Las Vegas valley in Nevada. The National Weather Service documented at least three “well-developed” dust devils that formed Monday, May 7. They produced winds up to 55-60 mph and caused some minor structural damage.

Great photo of dust devil from KTNV News, Las Vegas

What’s a dust devil? Here’s the NWS’ excellent description:

A dust devil is a rotating column of air that forms as a result of intense surface heating. During the daytime radiation from the sun heats the ground and the warm ground in turn heats a thin layer of air directly above the ground. Since this thin layer of heated air is warmer and less dense than the air above it, it tends to rise. Under the right conditions, a column of rapidly rising air may develop and begin to spin. As the column is stretched vertically it begins to rotate faster - resulting in a dust devil as it picks up dust, sand and debris from the ground. How does a dust devil compare to a tornado? Both are rotating columns of air; however, dust devils form under clear skies, while tornadoes are associated with a parent thunderstorm.


Damage to the La Costa Grill near Las Vegas from a dust devil. (NWS Las Vegas)

You can learn more about dust devils and Monday’s dust devil event near Vegas here: Destructive Dust Devils In The Las Vegas Valley On May 7, 2012

Jason is currently the Washington Post’s weather editor. A native Washingtonian, Jason has been a weather enthusiast since age 10.
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