27 Nov, 2020
JERUSALEM WEATHER

Recently, the National Weather Service issued its first-ever warning for a tornado caused by fire. A wind vortex generated by a wildfire in Northern California created a pyrocumulonimbus cloud. 

 

Such clouds generated by extreme heat like that found in a wildfire or volcanic eruption can be accompanied by tornados of fire, hail, and lightning. Dubbed firenadoes, the combined effects of these phenomena can cause greatly increased fire-spread and cause direct dangers on the ground in addition to ‘normal’ fires.

“A pyrocumulonimbus from the Loyalton Fire is capable of producing a fire-induced tornado and outflow winds in excess of 60 mph,” the weather service warned. “It was located south of Chilcoot and is nearly stationary. This is extremely dangerous for firefighters.”

Firenadoes  are among the rarest weather phenomena on Earth with only one other such event being well-documented to date. And this one had the distinction of possibly being the strongest tornado in California’s history with surface winds that exceeded 143 mph, making it the equivalent of an EF3 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. Preliminary reports included the collapse of high tension power line towers, uprooted trees, and the complete removal of tree bark.

The conditions for the firenado began when a wildfire was reported on Friday afternoon, sending 300 firefighters from local agencies and the U.S. Forest Service to fight the fires. Despite their best efforts, by Saturday, the blaze spread to more than 2,000 acres and was only 5% contained.

The NWS Reno office issued a warning that the fire tornadoes may be accompanied by penny-sized hail

Fire tornadoes are very rare and little is known about them, but they can be deadly. In December 2019, two firefighting vehicles, one weighing upwards of ten tons, were flipped over by the vortexes. The incident resulted in one fatality and injuries to two others.

The image of hail falling while a firenado ravaged the landscape is reminiscent of the Biblical seventh plague, hail, that appeared with its elemental opposite, fire.

The hail was very heavy—fire flashing in the midst of the hail—such as had not fallen on the land of Egypt since it had become a nation. Exodus 9:24

In fact, Jewish sources predict that all of the plagues will reappear in the final Redemption but in even more powerful forms. It is written in Midrash Tanchuma, homiletic teachings collected around the fifth century, that “just as God struck the Egyptians with 10 plagues, so too He will strike the enemies of the Jewish people at the time of the Redemption.”

This concept was explained by Rabbi Bahya ben Asher, a 13th-century Spanish commentator, who wrote, “In Egypt, God used only part of His strength. When the final redemption comes, God will show much, much more of His power.”

The Israel Bible gives a poignant explanation of why the seventh plague, a combination of fire and ice, is appropriate for the turbulent times we live in.

“The hail contains both fire and ice, yet the fire does not melt the ice and the water of the ice does not extinguish the fire. They are able to exist in harmony for the purpose of fulfilling God’s will. Similarly, the medieval commentator Rashi comments (Gen. 1:8) that the Hebrew word for heaven, ‘shamayim,’ comes from the Hebrew words ‘aish’ (fire) and ‘mayim’ (water), as the two came together in harmony to make up the heavens. This serves as a powerful lesson of peace and is referenced in the daily Jewish prayer service. The following supplication appears multiple times in the liturgy: ‘He Who makes peace in His heights (between fire and water), may He make peace, upon us and upon all Israel.’”