"Blossom devil" strikes golf club
Alert weather observer Jane Gilbert, of Bel Air sent us word Thursday of a new (to me) weather phenomenon that tore things up a bit at a golf course in Havre de Grace - the much-feared "blossom devil." Read on:
"I just had to share with you the coolest weather phenomena I’ve ever seen close up! At about 3:15 p.m. today I was at the Swan Creek golf course in Havre de Grace. It was bright and sunny in the low 70s without a cloud in the sky and no wind. Several of us are standing in the pro shop harassing the pro as best we could, when all of the sudden one of my friends points out the window and says, "Check out the wind!"
"We all looked outside, and all hell was breaking loose. There were so many blossoms in the air that it looked like it (was) snowing. We all ran outside and realized what we were seeing was a big dust devil without the dust. (A blossom devil?)
"It moved across the blacktop over some golf carts and popped the windshield out of one and sent it flying about 30 feet. It then moved toward the grill room where it went up on the back patio and flipped over tables and gave one of the big table umbrellas a good toss in the air and over the side.
"I apparently was so mesmerized by the thing that I was following it. (One of the guys that works there accused me of hoping to see a flying cow.) Anyway, after wreaking havoc on the patio, it just disappeared. All was calm again, and we were all just standing there in total shock.
"Now I’ve seen the little dust devils blowing dirt and leaves around, but NEVER anything this big with the power it had. I’ll be doing some Googling trying to learn more about these things, but if you can shed any local light on them (if there is any), I’m all ears. It was one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen!"
Jane: I suspect that the killer Swan Creek Blossom Devil of 2006 was, as you suggest, a dust devil. Nothing more. Nothing less. We tend to think of dust devils as curious, but gentle summer phenomena that stir up the dust on a parking lot or out on a farmer's field, and disappear. In truth, and up close, they can actually be pretty big and boisterous. Here are some photographs of dust devils in Australia. They won't toss a cow into the next county, but heave a patio umbrella over the hedge? Sure. The fact that this one stirred up tree blossoms is simply an artifact of where it popped up, and what sort of debris was at hand to spin into the sky.
Check out this wild video of a dust devil that sprang up during a soccer game in Japan. Wow! (And thanks to Jane for sending it to the WeatherBlogger.) Update, 5/9/06: Here's a dust devil story worthy of Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz.
Dust devils occur when the air near the ground is heated by solar energy and, being lighter than the cold air above it, begins to rise. As it rises, under the right conditions, the column of air begins to spin. And as long as there is more warm air around to feed the little devil, it keeps on spinning, and drifting with the prevailing breezes, tossing whatever is handy to be tossed.
What's really fascinating about them is that they also occur on Mars. NASA's Mars-orbiting satellites began spotting their trails years ago - streaks in the Martian dust. Then they photographed the spinning columns of dust themselves, and the shadows they cast across the surface.
When the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed in 2004, they began capturing the dust devils on camera as they danced in front of them across the Martian desert. Click here for more on dust devils, and some NASA movies of the phenomenon on Mars.