I’ve talked about heat and summer and rain and monsoon since we moved here but today I want to talk about experiencing something I had never seen before, and it was up close and personal.
One thing we see a lot out here is “dust devils.” Wiki defines them as “a strong, well-formed, and relatively long-lived whirlwind, ranging from small (half a meter wide and a few meters tall) to large (more than 10 meters wide and more than 1000 meters tall). The primary vertical motion is upward. Dust devils are usually harmless, but can on rare occasions grow large enough to pose a threat to both people and property.” We saw an occasional whirlwind in Massachusetts but they were neither well formed nor long lasting. I can even remember seeing an occasional one in NY. Here in NM, they are a fairly common sight, especially out in the desert. The last time we picnicked at Dripping Springs, our friend Lou pointed one out in the desert in the distance and we were able to watch it for quite a while.
Well if you add water to the mix, you get something completely different. I used to think that was called a “water spout” but Wiki corrected me saying “A waterspout is an intense columnar vortex (usually appearing as a funnel-shaped cloud) that occurs over a body of water, connected to a cumuliform cloud. In the common form, it is a non-supercell tornado over water.” It goes on to say that “A steam devil is a small, weak whirlwind over water (or sometimes wet land) that has drawn fog into the vortex, thus rendering it visible. They form over lakes and oceans during cold air outbreaks while the water is still relatively warm, and can be an important mechanism in vertically transporting moisture. Smaller steam devils and steam whirls can form over geyser basins even in warm weather because of the very high water temperatures. Steam devils are generally quite a rare phenomenon.”
So, now a story. Last Sunday, another beautiful day here in paradise, we went swimming with a couple of our friends, Clair and Auntie. If by swimming you mean, we bob around the pool for a while, talking about everything under the sun. As we are participating in this wonderful form of exercise, clouds begin to thicken a bit and the wind picks up a bit to. I was in the shallower end of the pool, facing the three ladies, when I saw an errant beach ball go flying by. It had been in the pool a few minutes before but when it went over our heads it was 30 feet above the ground and almost went over the fence. I saw it but didn’t think much of it until I began to feel water splashed on my neck. As I began to realize that there was no one else in the pool, I began to hear some splashing sounds behind me, and thought for a second that one of the birds around had fallen in the pool. When I turned 180 degrees, I saw a small, spinning whirlpool about 10 feet away. It was maybe 1.5 to 2 feet across and moved slightly towards us. I called to the others and we all watched it spin for a few seconds and then it started to move to our right, towards the edge of the pool. It seemed to be getting louder, but not bigger as it went. It got to the edge of the pool right where a skimmer is built into the side of the pool and as it passed over it, on to the concrete, it tossed the plastic skimmer cover, that can be removed to take out leaves and other debris from the catch basket, about 5 feet into the air and a few feet away.
We stood there in the pool for a while, mouths agape. We all confirmed to each other what we had just witnessed and then got out of the pool. As we sat in the shade, the sun disappeared and in a few minutes it began to rain. A nice rain, cool and wet. This meant we got to sit there longer because no one wanted to get a swimsuit wet. All in all, an eventful, exciting day.