A ‘gustnado’

Q: What is a gustnado?

A: A “gustnado,” which is actually a slang term, is a short lived, low-level rotating cloud that can form as a result of the outflow, or gust front, from a severe thunderstorm, said Dion DeLao of Texas A&M University. The term is a blend of the words “gust front tornado” and they usually last just a few seconds to a minute or so.

“ The outflow is a product of strong downdraft winds that spread outwards when hitting the ground, causing intense winds at the surface,” he said. “A gustnado can form in an unstable environment. They typically range in height from 30-300 feet and unlike tornadoes, are not connected with the cloud base of the thunderstorm.”

Q: If I see a gustnado, should I be worried?

A: As mentioned, gustnadoes are not tornadoes, although they can be mistaken for one, DeLao added.

“Gustnadoes typically pick up dust and toss small debris in the air, similar to a dust devil, just on a larger scale,” he said. “However, some become relatively strong and cause damage to homes and property. With winds that can sometimes reach 60-80 mph, the damage can be similar to that of an EF-0 or EF-1 tornado.”

Although “gustnado” is not a common weather term, the word is popular in the Great Plains and Midwest of the United States, where they form frequently.

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2011-10-20 digital edition

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