Dust Devils, Whirlwinds and Tornados—We All Know Some of Each!

tornadoDust Devils, Whirlwinds and Tornados—We All Know Some of Each!

We drove across rural North Dakota on a windy day as the fields were being prepared for planting. (It’s surprising how many people don’t realize our country needs large open stretches of land to produce our food.) Because it was dry, there was a lot of dust in the air.
Every few miles there’d be a small brown tornado—a dust devil. Some were small—a few meters wide, while others seemed to stretch up for several stories. My husband mentioned seeing numerous dust devils bouncing across the landscape the day of his grandfather’s funeral.
Whirlwind is the word that encompasses any spinning, cylindrical air column. It can be a tornado, a dust devil or even a typhoon or hurricane. We use whirlwind to describe someone who is extremely energetic, often causing tumult. Think about the people you know. Is there someone who leaves you breathless when they exit the room? S/He is probably a whirlwind.
Those who deal with small children know the damage they can do to an ordered room. “It looks like a tornado went through here!”
The actual weather events—tornados, typhoons, hurricanes—are no laughing matter. We lived in the Philippines when two typhoons hit the island in rapid succession. I will never forget the sound of the pounding rain on the roof nor the groan of our big mango tree as it was pushed over by the wind. The eye passed over us and, standing outside looking up, we could see a patch of bright blue sky while swirling grey clouds formed a large cylinder around it.
We have also watched tornados bounce and jump across hills and ditches not far from us but happily none of them did serious damage to our house. Some of our neighbors weren’t so lucky.
I imagine the character Pig Pen from the Peanuts comics as a dust devil. In fact, I have known little boys who fit that description as well! The term is somehow less serious than tornado, even though it fits in the larger whirlwind category.
I love the metaphors that English throws up! What are your favorites?
Patricia May
President and CEO


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