Dust Devils The Whirlwind of Desert ~ Kwentology

Dust Devils on Earth

What is a Dust Devil?

It's a clear sunny day with no clouds in the sky. Suddenly you spot a swirling column of air headed toward you. Is it a tornado? No, it's a dust devil, a whirlwind that you can see because it picks up dust and other debris from the ground. If I'll be on that situation I really don't know what to do. Maybe I just run as fast as I can.

Compared to tornadoes, dust devils are small, usually 10 to 15 feet around and from 100 to 400 feet high. Unlike most tornadoes, a dust devil lasts about a minute or so, with wind speeds under 50 miles per hour. Every once in a while, more powerful dust devil forms. The largest can reach 300 feet across, last up to an hour, travel at 60 miles per hour. Occasionally, dust devils can cause damage and injury.

Desert Dust Devils

Comparing Tornadoes and Dust Devils
Forms from thunderclouds.Forms from the ground up.
Forms over wooded or plains area.Forms over deserts.
Can be up to 2,000 feet high.Can be up to 400 feet high.
Can spin up to 250 miles per hour.Can spin up to 60 miles per hour.
Rotates counter-clockwise.Rotates clockwise.
Last from 10 minutes up to an hour.Last a few minutes.

Dust devils most often form in deserts and other wide-open places where ground heats up until it is very hot. If this hot air rises and meets cooler air, the air may start to spin faster and faster. A dust devil will form if light winds tilt spinning air upright. Once vertical, the dust devil takes off, careening across the landscape. As more hot air feeds into the bottom of the whirlwind, the dust devil grows larger and spin faster. As soon as cooler air is sucked inside, the dust devil collapses.

Image of Dust Devils in Mars

Martian Dust Devils

Let's explore the planet Mars, the desert planet. Dust devils swirl across the Red Planet, too, and they form there the same way they do on Earth. The Martian whirlwinds, though, are much, much larger than any on our planet—up to 50 times as wide and more than two miles high. Because dust devils are common on Mars, they could damage expensive equipment on NASA probes there. So far, this hasn't been a problem. Both the Spirit, Curiosity and Opportunity rovers on Mars met up with dust devils and came away with their solar panels cleaned! This greatly increased their power levels and extended the robot's usefulness.

Kwentologist Tells You More...

After Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, people could see hundreds of sand devils that had formed from volcanic ash spin across the bare landscape. I'm just thinking probably that amazing moment is like a fountains of dust. Going to cover my nose then.
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