To state the obvious: 2020 has been one hell of a year. Incredibly tragic celebrity deaths, the novel coronavirus pandemic, huge socio-cultural and political upheavals—not to mention plagues of locusts and heatwaves. And on August 15, 2020, the National Weather Service issued its first-ever warning for a fire tornado.
That's right. A tornado. Of fire.
Atmospheric scientist Matthew Cappucci explained how incredible this was in a tweet featuring screengrabs of the actual warning as well as a tornadic signature on radar:
For the first time in history, a tornado warning has been issued for a likely *fire tornado*. These are not "firewhirls." This is a rotating smoke plume being ingested into a pyrocumulonimbus cloud that could produce a bonafide fire-induced tornado. Tornadic wind speeds.
We've written about fire vortexes and the fire whirl that rose from a burning bourbon distillery, but Cappucci made it clear this was a different animal. So did multiple awe-inspiring and frankly terrifying videos and images posted on social media.
The Sacramento Bee contacted the forecaster who wrote the warning and he said that it was indeed "probably the first time" such an alert has "been issued outside of a thunderstorm environment."
Later Saturday night, Mother Nature doubled down by hitting the San Francisco Bay area with an epic electrical storm.