Share

'Hipster Twister' Dust Devil Hits Brooklyn; Here's How It Formed

Andrea Thompson
Published: August 12, 2014

Some denizens of Brooklyn who were out enjoying a warm, sunny summer day in a park in the Williamsburg neighborhood on Sunday got quite a surprise when a dust devil spun across a baseball diamond as park goers lounged on beach towels nearby.

Dust devils -- small, rotating columns of air that we can see because of the dust and debris they pick up from the ground -- aren’t a common feature of New York City’s weather, and sparked a surge of local media coverage.

"It’s an item of curiosity," said Bill Goodman, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s New York office. "These things don’t happen very often, especially not in the middle of New York."

(MORE: You'll Probably Only See This One More Time)

It happened this time because conditions were right: The day was clear, hot and calm, which can set up a situation where one part of the ground -- such as the dark asphalt of a parking lot -- heats up faster than the surrounding ground. In this case, the dry dirt of the baseball diamond likely heated up faster than the surrounding grass (which contains moisture that absorbs some of the heat) under the clear skies and hot, dry conditions in the city.

"Yesterday was just a good day for something like that to form," Goodman told Climate Central.

When you get a contrast in heating such as what happened on Sunday, it can overcome the larger weather influences and create a mini weather pattern. The hotter part of the ground heats up the air above it. This air is hotter than the air around and above it and so rises, punching through the cooler air above and creating a vertical column of warm, rising air. Around this cool air that has been knocked out of the way circulates vertically. If a gust comes along, it can blow this arrangement on its side, forming a dust devil.

(WATCH: Drone Crashes Into Yellowstone Hot Springs)

Dust devils range in width from about 10 feet to 100 feet, according to the American Meteorological Society, with an average height of about 650 feet.

They aren't the same as tornadoes, which form by slightly different processes, and don't get nearly as big or as destructive as tornadoes can get. They can do some damage however, up to an EF1 rating on the Enhanced Fujita tornado damage rating scale, the AMS notes.

While they aren’t common in the New York area, they do happen. Goodman said that when he worked at the Mount Holly, N.J., NWS office, they would get a dust devil report "just about every summer."

You May Also Like:
- 87 Cities, 4 Scenarios and 1 Really Hot Future
- Keystone XL Will Spike Oil Demand and CO2, Study Says
- Odds of El Niño Drop; Still Expected to Form
- Has Your City Reached its Peak Heat Yet?

Featured Blogs

25th Anniversary of Hurricane Hugo Hitting South Carolina

By Dr. Jeff Masters
September 21, 2014

On September 21, 1989, Hurricane Hugo underwent a period of rapid intensification that made it a Category 4 storm with 135 mph winds at landfall at Sullivan's Island, South Carolina at 11:57 pm. It was the strongest hurricane on record to hit South Carolina, and the second strongest hurricane (since reliable records began in 1851) to hit the U.S. East Coast north of Florida.

Incredible Rainstorm in Southern France

By Christopher C. Burt
September 19, 2014

Torrential rainfall Tuesday through Thursday morning (September 16-18) in the Languedoc Region of southern France has resulted in flooding that has killed at least four people with two others still missing. The rainfall rates during the storm were phenomenal.

Live Blog: Tracking Hurricane Arthur as it Approaches North Carolina Coast

By Shaun Tanner
July 3, 2014

This is a live blog set up to provide the latest coverage on Hurricane Arthur as it threatens the North Carolina Coast. Check back often to see what the latest is with Arthur. The most recent updates are at the top.

Tropical Terminology

By Stu Ostro
June 30, 2014

Here is some basic, fundamental terminology related to tropical cyclones. Rather than a comprehensive and/or technical glossary, this represents the essence of the meaning & importance of some key, frequently used terms.

2013-14 - An Interesting Winter From A to Z

By Tom Niziol
May 15, 2014

It was a very interesting winter across a good part of the nation from the Rockies through the Plains to the Northeast. Let's break down the most significant winter storms on a month by month basis.

What the 5th IPCC Assessment Doesn't Include

By Angela Fritz
September 27, 2013

Melting permafrost has the potential to release an additional 1.5 trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere, and could increase our global average temperature by 1.5°F in addition to our day-to-day human emissions. However, this effect is not included in the IPCC report issued Friday morning, which means the estimates of how Earth's climate will change are likely on the conservative side.