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Help. What the @%&! is this?

A nameless member of the public emailed this into the South African Weather Service. Crickey! I first thought it was a mega dust devil. Then I looked at the instability on the day in question, which was very high. Maybe it is a tornado, but I can't see the parent storm here. Could it even be a monster landspout, or is it a tornado? Any thoughts anybody??



Jan84pm-darkened.jpg
 
its definately not smoke so we can rule that out, ive never seen a dust devil like that before not to say it cant happen but that looks to "violent" to be your run of the mill dust devil, looks like its under some Cu as per the background, kinda looks like a mostly sunny day with towering Cu, if i had a logical guess i think it would be a landspout, again if you knew if there was a storm around there then maybe maybe it could be a weak tornado, do you have anymore info or can you obtain it? that might be able to get to the bottom of it...but judging by this pic alone, i would tend to lean toward a landspout, are they common around there??
 
Do you have any idea what the soil is like near where this happened? If the soil, sand or dirt isn't of a dark variety, I'd be willing to bet it was smoke. However, there does look like some outward circulation near the very base of the vortex in question...it still looks like a massive amount of smoke to me, though. If the fire was large or hot enough, it's enough to cause a dust devil appearance due to the updraft of heat (well, that's a big duh). I believe Mike Umscheid took some pictures of a large field fire that resembled a tornado some months ago.
 
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The vortex and the hillside in the background are in a large shadow. Looking at the cu on the right and left side of the vortex it appears that there is precipitation (hook echo?) between the vortex and the cu.

Given the instability, large shadow (from deep moist convection) and precip near the vortex I am 97% sure this is a tornado. The next question is, "What type of tornado is this, mesocyclone or non-mesocyclone?” If I had to guess I'd say it is most likely a mesocyclone tornado but I'm on 65% confident in that answer.

Scott Currens
www.violentplains.com
 
I don't think it's a petrol fire or anything like that, smoke drifts. The individual who emailed described it as a tornado (not in English). He or she has not returned any contact or name. Even the area is vague, just south of a place called Heidelberg, outside Johannesburg. It's just bush out there.

The only other clue was some metadata on the photo, it was taken on 8 Jan 2005 at 4pm. Here's the local sounding...could easily be a nado with conditions.



pretoriaskew.gif
 
Do they have more pictures? A sequence of images would shed some light on motion/dynamics.
 
Can anyone explain why its so dark?

If you are going to rule out smoke, I'd like to hear the reasoning behind that. Smoke doesn't always "drift," especially when it is being sucked into a vortex it's parent fire created.
 
Well, the dirt could be dark. Even with the background hill in the shadow, the dirt is still darker than normal. Also, if you look at the top right, you can see a dark outline, showing me a vortex. In the upper half you can also faintly see a criss-cross of the "dirt", again showing a vortex.
 
A bunch of us, meaning me. First thing I thought when I saw that photo was smoke. Looks way to dark to be dirt. Not that dirt isn't dark, but when it is dry and you are throwing it into the air it isn't that dark.

Now, it obviously isn't just a smoke plume rising into the air. It has rotation, just like a dust devil.
 
I definately think its smoke with some rotation from the intense heat as has already been alluded to. Looking at some soil maps..there doesnt appear to be much black soil in South Africa. Mostly it appears to be arid with reddish soils.

http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y5998e/y5998e03.jpg < soil wetness

http://www.fao.org/docrep/008/y5998e/y5998e04.jpg < soil type map

There do appear to be some areas further south from Heidelberg (if it was taken there) that do have black soils (vertisols) but the general area in question it doesnt seem possible.

It really looks like smoke to me.
 
i have retracted my statement about not being smoke after lookin at mikes pictures, for the reason that i thought a "smokenado" couldnt be that "perfectly symmetrical" i have seen many many fires and a couple of vortices like this but they were all disorganized and tilted off in the direction of the wind, i wish i had pics to show you, but after looking at mikes and looking at this, it looks relatively similar, the only problem i have is like in mikes picture there is a large fire there, here there is possibly a grass or brush fire, so i have kind of a hard time believing the WHOLE fire is caught up into a vortex.......thoughts? denials? anything?
 
i think its possible had the fire been large enough, i have a video on different vortices and in one video it said if the fire is large enough it creates its own air mass and even its own thunderstorms
 
We need more pictures. I'm skeptical about a tornado, but something producing that much smoke should have some flames or at least a glow from the fire visible.
 
What about the darker clouds on the top left then? There could be a thunderstorm we cant see near by.
 
I see dark clouds to the top left and see rotation with a big vortex. (Did I say that right?) I see no evidence that this is a fire unless the flames/red glow is below the hill. In any case this to me looks to much like a tornado.

Scott Currens shows a good example of a tornado look alike.
 
The reality is there is simply insignificant information to come to any sort of a logical conclusion to the exact nature of this phenomenon.

We will need to obtain, as has been previously stated, either a series of photographs of the event, the EXACT date and time that this occurred, and/or obtain a wider shot of the entire structure of the event. At the present time with the singular photograph that we observe, all we will continue to do is to guess and, to be honest, throwing a dart blindfolded would yield just as good a guess.

Looking solitarily at this picture, it can go any direction. There is what *appears* to be a cloud base, albeit high, above the area of interest. As what was previously stated, the rich dark material indeed suggests smoke so we can't rule anything out or conclusively prove anything. What I will say with certainty is that this photograph is, indeed, fascinating, and I am hoping somebody will come out with more information so we can figure this bad boy out and rest this case.
 
I am afraid its all the info I have. The sand in the area is light red, but there are coal mine spoil dumps in that general area as well which could give it the dark color. I think the fire devil idea is interesting, but it would need to be a petrol fire to create that colour, grass or bush burns white smoke.

It is indeed mysterious. I am tending toward a nado given the instability on the day. But if it is a fire devil, it's a very big one.
 
I see dark clouds to the top left and see rotation with a big vortex. (Did I say that right?) I see no evidence that this is a fire unless the flames/red glow is below the hill. In any case this to me looks to much like a tornado.

Scott Currens shows a good example of a tornado look alike.

It's what I was thinking about before making a contrast to the picture.

Guys, if you see the top of the vortex it seems that there's a large funnel but with more contrast you see that that isn't a funnel but it's probably smoke (taking apart the dark color of the vortex that it's more similar to the smoke color than dust color).
 
The individual who emailed described it as a tornado (not in English). He or she has not returned any contact or name. Even the area is vague, just south of a place called Heidelberg, outside Johannesburg. It's just bush out there.

The only other clue was some metadata on the photo, it was taken on 8 Jan 2005 at 4pm.

What did the South African Weather Service say about the report? Were there storms in the area that day?

The person that took this picture had an excellent view the vortex. They could see the situation evolve in time and space as well as see everything that is outside the image. They reported is as a tornado! I just don't see anything in the image that says otherwise.

I don't think this is a fire vortex because there isn't any smoke rising outside of the vortex. I have never seen a fire vortex that ingests all of the fire's
smoke into the vortex. Look at Mike U's fire vortex

It would be nice if we could get a radar or satellite loop so we could at least know if thunderstorms occured on 8 Jan 2005.

Scott Currens
www.violentplains.com
 
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