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A gustnado is a short-lived, shallow surface-based vortex which forms within the downburst emanating from a thunderstorm. The name is a portmanteau of "gust front tornado", as gustnadoes form due to non-tornadic straight-line wind features in the downdraft (outflow), specifically within the gust front of strong thunderstorms. Gustnadoes tend to be noticed when the vortices loft sufficient debris or form condensation cloud to be visible although it is the wind that makes the gustnado, similarly to tornadoes. As these eddies very rarely connect from the surface to the cloud base, they are very rarely considered as tornadoes. The gustnado has little in common with tornadoes structurally or dynamically in regard to vertical development, intensity, longevity, or formative process --as classic tornadoes are associated with mesocyclones within the inflow (updraft) of the storm, not the outflow.
The average gustnado lasts a few seconds to a few minutes, although there can be several generations and simultaneous swarms. Most have the winds of an EF-0 or EF-1 tornado (up to 110 mph or 177 km/h), and are commonly mistaken for tornadoes. However, unlike tornadoes, the rotating column of air in a gustnado usually does not extend all the way to the base of the thundercloud. Gustnadoes actually have more in common with whirlwinds. They are not considered true tornadoes (unless they connect the surface to the ambient cloud base) by most meteorologists and are not included in tornado statistics in most areas. Sometimes referred to as spin-up tornadoes, that term more correctly describes the rare tornadic gustnado that connects the surface to the ambient clouded base, or more commonly to the relatively brief but true tornadoes that are associated with a mesovortex.
The most common setting for a gustnado is on the outflow from a severe thunderstorm (more than 93 km/h or 58 mph winds). The cool air in the gust front acts like a mesoscale cold front. It slices under the warm air ahead of it, creating upward motions and turbulent interactions. The friction from this interaction creates a spinning column of air, or eddy, which can create a gustnado (to get the general idea of this, picture an area of leaves swirling on a windy day, just on a much larger scale).
In addition to forming on the leading edge of a thunderstorm, gustnadoes are also not uncommon in the rear-flank downdraft (RFD) of supercells. This region often contains high vorticity air, and sometimes highly buoyant air, both of which are conducive to the formation of gustnadoes as well as tornadoes. Gustnadoes near the updraft-downdraft interface may evolve into bona fide tornadoes when ingested into a mesocyclone. This is the mechanism by which gustnadoes become tornadoes in the aforementioned rare instances.
While injuries or deaths are rare from gustnadoes, strong ones can cause damage and they are hazardous to drivers. There is some speculation that a gustnado might be responsible for the collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair on August 13, 2011 which killed 7 people.
- Dust devil, whirlwinds that form due to superheated surface layers and stretched vorticity, most commonly on sunny, warm days with light winds
- Landspout and waterspout
- National Weather Service Topeka, KS. "Severe Weather: Sunday April 3". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
- Glickman, Todd S. (ed.) (2000). Glossary of Meteorology (2nd ed.). Boston: American Meteorological Society. ISBN 978-1-878220-34-9.
- Edwards, Roger (1 May 2017). "What is a Gustnado?". Tornado FAQ. NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center. Retrieved 2017-05-08.
- ""Gustnado" May Have Caused Indiana Stage Collapse". Scientific American. Retrieved 19 August 2011.
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