Gungahlin 'tornado' explained: Dust devil captured by Canberra resident
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Gungahlin 'tornado' explained: Dust devil captured by Canberra resident

Amateur photographers dotted across Canberra's northern suburbs snapped whirlwinds of dust and debris springing up on Sunday afternoon.

But were they twisters? Mini tornadoes? A sign of our impending doom?

"Absolutely not and there's no such thing as a mini tornado," Weatherzone meteorologist Kim Westcott said.

It was actually a dust devil, a very small atmospheric vortex quite common across Australia but less so in Canberra.

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A landspout was spied in Gungahlin on Sunday afternoon.

A landspout was spied in Gungahlin on Sunday afternoon.Credit:Jacqui Vincent

The tubes of fast-moving air were spotted in Gungahlin and along the Barton Highway at Hall.

"They're quite frequent in arid and semi-arid regions but you can get them everywhere," Ms Westcott said.

"Generally what they're associated with is hot sunny days and light winds. If it was a windy day it would blow apart."

Sunday's weather was certainly that but despite the menacing clouds in the background, Ms Westcott said dust devils or willy willys aren't associated with thunderstorms.

"It would have formed before all of the cloud and the wind came over. Some of them were near roads, it gets pretty hot on that black tarmac there.

"The reason you can see it is because it's picking up dust from the ground and bringing it up. It's obviously picked up some dust somewhere and it looks pretty cool."

So is it like a waterspout?

"Yes and no," Ms Westcott said.

Weatherzone defines a waterspout in general as a tornado occurring over water and dust devils are definitely not tornadoes.

"They have different mechanisms, the only thing they have in common is they spin around," she said.

"Generally they don't do too much damage, only the really big ones cause any damage but that's very rare."

Jacqui Vincent was driving along Horse Park Drive when she saw the dust devil take shape.

"It stretched from the ground into the clouds. We pulled over as it started picking up dusk," Ms Vincent said.

It only lasted five minutes but she said it looked "pretty ominous".

"I was born and raised here and have never seen anything like that in Canberra."

Weatherzone is owned by Fairfax Media, publisher of this website.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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