Active thunderstorms over the weekend ignited more than 15 fires across Alaska, including one currently burning at the Tanana Flats Training Area. The warm smoke from the fire about nine miles south of Fairbanks combined with the cooler temperatures of the air aloft and created a form of dust devil the Fairbanks National Weather Service tabbed a "smokenado".
"Active weather again today across the Fairbanks area. In addition to the thunderstorms, one of our forecasters captured this impressive photo of a smokenado from the wildfire just south of town" National Weather Service Fairbanks
"Smoke is almost a perfect way to show the dust devil, because smoke is something you can see and it is easily carried," Jim Brader, Meteorologist with the Fairbanks National Weather Service, said. "Large objects like sand are going to fall out as they move up in the dust devil...but smoke is very light, so it is basically a way to make the dust devil visible."
Dust devils are common in the area, especially in early summer. Tornadoes on the other hand are rare in Alaska, as only four have been reported in the state since 1959, according to The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Dust devils and tornadoes are both vertical, rotating columns of wind, however tornadoes can be much more severe. A tornado always descends from parent cloud and it's vortex extends to the ground, while a dust devil is formed at the ground and are not attached to a cloud.