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An Australian pyro-tornadogenesis event


On 18 January 2003, fires had a devastating impact on Australia’s capital, Canberra. A series of reviews and scientific studies have examined the events of that day and indicate that the worst impacts were due to a series of violent pyro-convective events and resultant pyro-cumulonmibi. These coupled fire–atmosphere events are much more energetic than normal fires. In one instance, an intense pyro-convective cell developed a tornado. We demonstrate that this was indeed a tornado, the first confirmed pyro-tornadogenesis in Australia, and not a fire whirl. Here, we discuss aspects of the formation, evolution and decay of the tornado, which was estimated to have been of at least F2 intensity, highlighting a process that can significantly increase the damage of a wildfire event.

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  1. See page 2–3 of the transcript, Doogan 2006.


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The authors would like to thank Air Target Services Pty Ltd, Nowra, New South Wales; Clem Davis, Bureau of Meteorology (retired); Peter Deck of the ACT Ambulance Service; Christine Goonrey; NSW Rural Fire Service; Jim Venn; Tom Bates. The authors also acknowledge the two anonymous reviewers whose comments prompted significant improvements to the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Richard H. D. McRae.

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McRae, R.H.D., Sharples, J.J., Wilkes, S.R. et al. An Australian pyro-tornadogenesis event. Nat Hazards 65, 1801–1811 (2013).

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  • Pyro-tornadogenesis
  • Pyro-cumulonimbus
  • Tornado
  • Wildfire