What Is a Gustnado?

May 14, 2011; 8:10 AM ET
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We all have heard of a tornado, but what about the slang term "gustnado?"

A gustnado is a short-lived, ground-based swirling wind that can form on the leading edge of a severe thunderstorm.

Although the name comes from "gust front of a tornado," and a gustnado almost looks like a tornado, it is not considered to be one. A gustnado develops in a different way than a classic tornado does.

Very strong thunderstorms produce a powerful downward push of air called a downdraft. The downdraft winds then spread outward upon hitting the ground, causing a strong rush of wind at the surface. If there is enough instability, rotation may develop and a gustnado might form.

The gustnado spins upward from the ground, extending between 30 to 300 feet above the surface. However, the rotating column of air in a gustnado is not connected to the base of a cloud, making it different from tornado.

The average gustnado lasts a few seconds to a few minutes, like a tornado does, but is relatively weak and brief. They may be accompanied by rain, but mostly just toss dust and small debris into the air. Gustnadoes can sometimes reach wind speeds between 60 to 80 mph, resulting in significant damage, similar to that of an EF-0 or EF-1 tornado.

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