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Tornado’s ‘distant cousin’ visits Central Maui

August 22, 2013
The Maui News
A dust devil churns in Central Maui on Monday. Kula resident Justin Offerman snapped the photo between 4 and 4:30 p.m. from the 3,000-foot elevation of Haleakala near Kula Lodge. He estimated it to be as much as 2,000 feet tall. “It was really, really high,” he said. “I’ve never seen one that high before.” Dust devils are a “fairly typical phenomenon,” said meteorologist Tom Birchard of the National Weather Service in Honolulu. Dust devils occur when large-scale winds, like prevailing trade winds, are light, he said. Then, as the land’s surface heats air, cooler air from over the ocean rushes toward the center of the island. When that air collides, it begins to spin and stretch out vertically into a dust devil, Birchard explained. This phenomenon was particularly visible because it appeared over a dusty area and carried red dirt into the air, he said. Dust devils are usually benign, except perhaps to lawn furniture, he said, and are a “distant cousin” to tornadoes that form dangerous, high-speed spinning winds from much larger-scale weather systems.


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