Tumbleweed 'Tornado' Caught on Camera in Washington Highway

A video on Twitter has gained attention for showing a "tumbleweed tornado" tearing across a Washington highway.

The clip was shared by Matt M. McKnight, a Seattle-based journalist with Crosscut, a nonprofit news site serving the Pacific northwest. McKnight explained he took the video while traveling along the Washington 240. He said he pulled over when he spotted the incoming tumbleweed on a spot of road near the Hanford Nuclear Reservation in Benton County, Washington.

"Saw this approaching and pulled over along WA-240 a few minutes ago near Hanford Site," he tweeted.

At the time of writing, the video, posted on Thursday, has racked up more than 20K likes and 6K retweets, and has been watched more than 504K times.

OMG TUMBLEWEED TORNADO! 🌪 Saw this approaching and pulled over along WA-240 a few minutes ago near Hanford Site. #wawx pic.twitter.com/NL9Nny1j7a

— Matt M. McKnight (@mattmillsphoto) April 30, 2020

McKnight later told the Tri-City Herald how he came across what he refers to as "the tumbleweed devil." He said he was traveling along the highway when he noticed some tumbleweed "bouncing" along the road.

"Moments later it was a bunch grouped together and I needed to slow down a bit," he explained. "Then I looked about a hundred yards down the road and saw a tumbleweed devil forming quickly—so I pulled over to be safe."

Even after he pulled over, the tumbleweed headed straight towards him—and "Bessie," his 1985 VW Vanagon. Both McKnight and Bessie managed to make it out relatively unscathed with just a few scratches to show for the incident.

"She appears to be fine with some minor scratches and a whole lot of tumbleweeds that I needed to clear from the undercarriage," McKnight told the Tri-City Herald.

"The most nerve wracking part was actual driving out of the pile that had surround me."

Scott Sistek, Web Meteorologist for KOMO News, has published an explainer on the weather phenomenon. According to Sistek, "tumbleweed-nado" is not a technical term and the swirling tumbleweed is not actually a tornado.

"As I teased at the start, this is just a big dust devil whose path carried it through the rolling tumbleweeds of Eastern Washington," he explained.

"It's not officially a tornado, or any kind of -nado, but is just an intense swirl of air caused when you have a column of relatively hot air rising rapidly and then when air rushes in to replace it can bring rotation..."

While a tumbleweed-nado may not be a real weather phenomenon, firenadoes are. The fire-tornado hybrid have been spotted in Australia and the U.S. when wildfire reaches such a high level of intensity that they start to form their own weather system.

These weather systems can generate firestorms and at their most acute, tornadoes that look like they are made of flames.