NORTH OGDEN, Utah (ABC4) – Photos of an unusual wind pattern caught the attention of social media this week.
What appeared to be a vertical tunnel of wind made its way from cloud cover and touched the earth near 5 p.m. Wednesday night in Weber County. It was reported by an ABC4 staff member who lives in the area that a rec-league softball game had to be canceled on the spot due to the concerning sight.
At the time of the video’s appearance on social media, it was reported by ABC4 Chief Meteorologist Alana Brophy that the whirlwind was categorized as a dust devil, according to the National Weather Service.
The occurrence has since been re-defined as a landspout.
What is a landspout though? The term “spout” brings the lyrics to the classic children’s song, “I’m a Little Teapot” to mind.
As Meteorologist Cesar Cornejo explains, the expression isn’t derived from the song for babies, but rather the location of where these phenomenons typically occur.
“The reason why they call it a landspout is that normally these types of events happen usually over water,” he says. “Water spouts happen because there’s less friction, but given this one occurred over the land, it gets that name.”
As Brophy explained on Twitter, the landspout in North Ogden did not originate from a thunderstorm, those were taking place over the mountains to the east, but was actually a vertically oriented column of air.
While it looked somewhat similar to a tornado, those Utahns who remember the one that struck downtown Salt Lake City in 1999 will know what a true tornado would resemble, the landspout was much less intense.
The tornado that caused significant damage to around 300 Salt Lake City buildings and resulted in the death of one nearly 22 years ago was labeled as an F2 on the Fujita scale and lasted for nearly 15 minutes. Measurements showed that the ’99 twister traveled more than four miles from the freeway to the Avenues neighborhood, passing by the then-Delta Center on its path.
Cornejo says that land spouts are much shorter in duration than a full-blown supercell tornado.
“They don’t get as strong,” he relates of landspouts. “These are usually quick little events that last no more than probably 10 minutes at most, if that. Tornadoes can have a little bit of a longer duration going from about 10 to maybe even 30 minutes or so, depending on its strength.”
And while they may not be as powerful as a tornado, there is still potential for impact and damage.
“It can be dangerous. It comes down to physics, basically. The winds speed up, and any winds, as we’ve seen before can cause some damage,” he cautions. “Is it going to destroy your home? No, but it might break down some trees and things like that.”
And although the sighting of a landspout may have caused a stir online, the truth is these are more common than you would think. Being able to capture one on video and share it on social media can be tricky due to its sudden nature and short duration.
Just because they aren’t seen on Twitter as often as other weather events, it doesn’t mean landspouts aren’t happening in Utah.
“They seem rare because they have been over areas that might not have someone there at that point,” Cornejo explains “To take a picture of the picture and share it, comes down to the whole if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a noise situation.”