PHOTOS: Whirlwinds of Fire, Water, Ice, Earth and Air

By Michael Kuhne, Staff Writer
July 13, 2014; 3:24 AM ET
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Vortices of air constantly surround us, invisible to the naked eye until something physical gives them shape. While tornadoes are the most well-known, destructive form, some aspects of tornado formation still pose a mystery for meteorologists studying the dynamics of a thunderstorm.

Unlike tornadoes, vortices animated by snow, leaves and even insects are often the result of wind which is deflected by natural geology or solid objects, which cause the air flows to whirl, Meteorologist Jesse Ferrell said. Other vortices made of fire, dust and steam are often the result of thermal uplift caused by variations between the surface temperature and the temperature of the atmosphere.

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Most waterspouts and landspouts are not created the same way as a tornado spawned by a super cell thunderstorm. However, thunderstorms can produce a tornado over a body of water as well.

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These variations in temperature or fluctuations in air pressure trying to reach an equilibrium can give rise to enormous vertical, columnlike structures depending on varying weather conditions, Ferrell added.

Vortices can also be generated by the intensity of a volcanic eruption and have even been found on the planet Mars.


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