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Dust devil spotted in Calgary


Staff writers
July 19, 2012 — A dust devil was spotted in Calgary on Wednesday, but what does the term mean exactly? Without knowing any better, the name alone could have you fearing the worst.


Dust devils are generally harmless and can be seen in dry conditions across Canada
Dust devils are generally harmless and can be seen in dry conditions across Canada

Luckily, the name itself is about as scary is it gets.

A dust devil is a strong, well-formed whirlwind of air into which dust and debris gets caught up and makes it visible -- much like how a tornado spins, as does this cloud of dust. It forms when hot air near the surface rises quickly through a small pocket of cooler, low- pressure air above it. If conditions are just right, the air may begin to rotate.

"It's a rotating column of air, which occurs on sunny days," explains Brian Dillon, a meteorologist at The Weather Network. "They are usually half a metre to 10 metres high, rotating like a tornado, just not as fast."

This latest video sent in by a Weather Network viewer, beautifully captures a dust devil in Calgary, Alberta, but that's not the only place Canadians can view the phenomenon.

"They are possible in farmers fields anywhere across Canada." adds Dillon.

Flat barren terrain, desert or tarmac conditions increase the likelihood of dust devil formation
Flat barren terrain, desert or tarmac conditions increase the likelihood of dust devil formation

Their primary vertical motion is upward. Dust devils, or "dustnadoes", are usually harmless, but on a rare occasion they can grow large enough to post a minor threat to people and property.

"They're not as dangerous as tornadoes, but they may cause damage to outlaying areas" says Dillon.

The dusty mini-twisters are as unique as the names they go by. Depending on where in the world they are spotted they can be referred to anyone of the myriad of names: "dancing devil", "dirt devil", "willy willy" or a "round-wind".

Dust devils generally remain in motion for up to five minutes.

If you spot one in your area, be sure to upload your photo or video directly to our website.

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