SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) – Active skies with thunderstorms on Sunday left an ABC4 viewer asking the Pinpoint Weather Team if she captured a tornado in Beaver County on camera. Megan Haun emailed this video, which shows a vertical rotating column of air in the South Central part of the state. 

(Courtesy of Megan Haun)

This initially appeared to be a large dust devil, which can resemble a tornado. They form from warm air at the surface rising rapidly with cooler air above it in the atmosphere. The warm air rises, then stretches and causes a spinning motion. Dust devils are short-lived because cold air eventually gets pulled in and dissipates the dust devil.

The other option is a landspout, which are non-supercell tornadoes. These are defined by narrow, rope-like condensation funnels that form when a thunderstorm cloud is still growing with no rotating updraft. Spinning motion originates near the ground with these, so a vertically oriented column of air exists. Landspouts are usually weak and short-lived, but can still pack winds up to 100 miles per hour.

Thunderstorms were in the area at the time the video was captured, so now the National Weather Service in Salt Lake City is reviewing the video and deciding on how to classify it. If this is found to be a landspout, it would be our second tornado of the year. A confirmed EF-2 tornado touched down on Father’s Day, June 19th, in Duchesne County and left a path of damage of more than two miles.

Utah averages three tornados a year statewide, and last year, four tornados were confirmed throughout the state including in Juab, Emery, Weber and Davis Counties. The confirmed 2021 tornadoes in Juab, Emery and Weber counties were landspout tornadoes. The tornadoes near Mona, Utah and Huntington, Utah were captured on camera and shared on social media in early July. The Weber County tornado happened in late July 2021 and was initially classified as a dust devil and then reclassified.

The Davis County tornado in early September 2021 was classified as an EF-1 tornado and also had a path of more than two miles. Several rounds of thunderstorms brought severe weather hazards to the state of Utah, including flash flooding in southern and eastern Utah, and damaging winds, hail, and a tornado in Northern Utah. This tornado caused damage in North Salt Lake, Utah, then lifted, touched back down and brought damage to Woods Cross, Utah. The setup for this was different than a landspout. This was a more classic tornado in which the necessary ingredients are found in major thunderstorms. It’s usually warm, humid conditions near the surface, cool air at altitude, and winds that move quickly and flow in opposite directions to create rotation.

For reference, tornadoes are classified by the Enhanced Fujita Scale:

Stay tuned for the full report on this Utah weather incident.

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