— Shawn Reynolds (@WCL_Shawn) May 6, 2014
Shawn Reynolds of the Weather Channel posted this photo on Tuesday afternoon. The image was sent to the Weather Channel on Friday, with the person who shared it writing that they spotted it after stopping to take a picture of a farmer burning his field. At that point, “the wind whipped up this twister,” the person wrote.
(We should clarify that we don’t know for sure if the image sent to the Weather Channel is real, but reverse searching the image turned up no results. Reynolds said that they believe the image is legitimate.)
Firewhirls turn and burn. They are rapidly spinning vortices that form when air superheated by an intense wildfire rises rapidly, consolidating low-level spin from winds converging into the fire like a spinning ice skater, pulling its arms inward.
For a different look at such a whirl, check out this video a firefighter captured in March during a controlled burn of 150 acres across the Rocky Mountain Arsenal refuge in Denver, Colo. The fire and smoke were pulled up into the vortex, leading to a video that looks downright apocalyptic: