Portage firefighters encounter ‘gustnado’ on way to call
By Carrie Napoleon Post-Tribune correspondent August 4, 2012 10:02PM
Firefighters responding to a call about black smoke in the area of 450 West and 750 North in Portage around 4:45 p.m. Saturday appear to have been witnesses to a weather phenomena meteorologists call a “gustnado.”
Lt. Chad Bogue with the Portage Fire Department, said firefighters were headed to what was apparently a small fire in a wood pile on a farm caused by a lightening strike as the storms rolled through this afternoon when they found themselves witnessing a funnel cloud of dust form near Willowcreek Road and U.S. 6.
“There were real strong winds. The air was circulating. It pulled all the dirt up into the air and headed east down U.S. 6,” Bogue said. He said firefighters could see the front edge of the storms and could see the clouds appear to be dipping down toward the dust funnel, but it did not appear to connect.
“You couldn’t see the Super Kmart building because of all the dust up in the air. It almost looked like the building was on fire,” he said.
Bogue said the dust funnel, which did not have the roaring noise typically associated with a tornado, was going toward the sky. It was very windy at that point and then shortly after the funnel was spotted the rain deluge began. The rain extinguished the small fire to which they were responding.
Matt Friedlein, meteorologist with the National Weather Service Chicago office, said the funnel clouds of dust often turn up on the leading edge of high-wind storm systems. The winds cause dust on the ground to swirl into a funnel cloud that resembles a tornado, but the cloud of dust does not connect with the atmospheric cloud, he said.
“It’s what we call a gustnado. It can look like a tornado, but it’s on the immediate ground level and not in the clouds,” Friedlein said. The gustnado does not cause any more damage than the wind itself. Wind gusts in the area were reported as high as 70 mph during the storm.