What is a dust devil? Difference between tornado and dust devil explained - are they rare in UK

A dust devil was sighted in the US during a baseball game in Jacksonville, in Florida

A dust devil disturbed a baseball game. (YouTube)A dust devil disturbed a baseball game. (YouTube)
A dust devil disturbed a baseball game. (YouTube)

Dramatic footage of a dust devil in a children's baseball game has circulated online.

Bauer Zoya, aged seven, was swept up in a whirlwind whilst playing as a catcher for the Ponte Vedra Sharks in Jacksonville, Florida. Zoya was eventually pulled out of the dust devil by the 17 year old umpire Aidan Wiles who rushed in to save him.

Reflecting on the experience, Zoya said: “I couldn’t breath too much. So I held my breath and then I didn’t know what to do so I just tried to think of something happy not like that, so I didn’t get frightened.”

Wiles has been praised on social media for his quick response in pulling the child out of danger with one user on Twitter describing him as a “hero with a bright future".

But what is a dust devil and what causes the weather phenomenon to occur? Here is everything you need to know.

What is a dust devil?

The Met Office defines a dust devil as an upward spiralling dust filled vortex of air. It can vary in height from a few fee to over 1000ft. Dust devils are usually several metres in diameter at the base, then narrowing for a short distance before expanding again.

Typically dust devils occur in desert and semi-arid areas, where the ground is dry and high surface temperatures produce strong updrafts.

What causes a dust devil?

Dust devils are typically caused by irregularities in their surface.

The Met Office explains that unlike tornadoes dust devils grow upwards from the ground, rather than down from the clouds. In stronger dust devils, a cumulous cloud can be seen at the top of the rising column of warm air.

Dust devils typically last a few minutes because cool air is sucked into the base of the rising vortex, cooling the ground and cutting off its heat supply.

Dust devils resemble the shape of mini-tornadoes but they are nowhere near as dangerous, powerful or destructive. They travel across the ground and besides dust, they may also carry other loose debris such as hay.

Are Dust devils common in the UK?

Dust devils typically take place in very warm climates, so it is not common to encounter the weather phenomenon in the UK.

However, a dust devil was sighted in a rural area of Northeast England last August and it was filmed by the County Durham & Darlington Fire & Rescue.

What is a tornado?

Tornadoes are described by the Met Office as one of the most violent and dramatic weather types on the planet.

It is a rapidly rotating column of air that reaches between the base of a storm cloud and the Earth’s surface. They typically form in very unsettled weather conditions as part of thunderstorms.

Many conditions need to be present but when these conditions are met, a violently whirling mass of air, known as a vortex forms beneath the storm cloud.

A large violent tornado passing through a populated area can lead to a total destruction of buildings and property in its path and sometimes can cause fatalities.