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

Live Blog: Updates on Historic Northeast Blizzard

By Shaun Tanner
January 26, 2015

An historic blizzard is heading through the northeastern United States, potentially bringing more than 2 feet of snow to some areas. Visit this live blog often for the latest updates on storm totals and breaking news.

Potentially Historic Blizzard Taking Aim on New England

By Dr. Jeff Masters
January 25, 2015

The densely populated area from New York City to Boston could experience one of its ten biggest snowstorms on record early this week, as a textbook nor’easter takes shape over the next 48 hours.

The RRR ‘Ridiculously Resilient Ridge’ Returns to California

By Christopher C. Burt
January 9, 2015

After a very wet first half of December hopes were high that the beginning to the end of California’s years-long drought might finally be at hand. However, virtually no rainfall has fallen across the state since December 18th and none is forecast until at least January 18th. Yet again, a month-long mid-winter dry spell has befallen the state.

Meteorological images of the year - 2014

By Stu Ostro
December 30, 2014

My 9th annual edition.

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.