Maybe you have seen these swirling columns of dirt and dust on a clear sunny day. Maybe, at first, you thought it was a tornado. However, there are differences between this rotating column of wind and a tornado.

The type of whirlwind that you see on clear, warm days is called a dust devil. It is different from a tornado in the fact that it typically occurs on clear, warm days. Whereas tornadoes form from thunderstorms called supercells and are driven by rotating updrafts.

A dust devil forms as the surface of the earth is heated by the sun. As the air near the surface warms, it rises leaving a void near the surface. This creates an area of low pressure, where air rushes in to fill this void. The speed of airflow around this low-pressure increases, and the circulation of air begins to pick up dust and dirt. As the surface continues to heat up, the circulation will continue to sustain itself.

Dust devils typically only last a few minutes and rarely cause minor damage to trees and outbuildings. However, there have been a few strong dust devils that have been able to pick up tents, and trampolines and blow off the roofs of barns. While dust devils tend to occur in the dry climates out west, they can occur anywhere. Not only do they occur on Earth, but they have also been observed on Mars.