Dust devils not uncommon especially when it’s dry

How they form and when you can typically see them
Published: Oct. 3, 2023 at 9:10 PM EDT|Updated: Oct. 3, 2023 at 9:21 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Dust devils can look like a tornado and have similar characteristics but are also quite different. Check out this video of a dust devil in McGaheysville that was taken in September 2023.

Dust devil in McGaheysville, VA

Dust devils do happen in our area on occasion when conditions are right. Videos are often circulated on social media of this weather phenomenon over baseball or softball fields, or even open corn fields. However, as enjoyable as they may be, the strongest dust devils can result in strong winds that may topple objects and blow dust and debris around its path. Damage is rare but it can happen at times.

Loose or light weight items that come into contact with dust devils can include tents, empty containers and bins, and canopies and lawn furniture. A dog was also picked up in a dust devil as seen in the video below. This was an extremely rare event and is not at all common.


On a day with a lot of sunshine and very light wind, warm air heats up and it starts to rise forming like a mini updraft. So it kind of forms an area of low pressure. The surrounding area rushes in to fill that void, to fill that low pressure and if you have just enough of a cross breeze, it can form an area of rotation and therefore we can have a dust devil. A lot of times you have to have very dry weather and no rain for an extended period of time so we don’t see these very often, but they do happen on occasion.

Dust devil formation and ingredients.
Dust devil formation and ingredients.(whsv)

Earlier in 2023, a dust devil developed in Shenandoah County and moved over Lake Laura, creating a lake spout. On Easter Sunday, another dust devil was reported around the Stuarts Draft region. Back in 2017, dust devil was observed in Page County.

Most of the time, dust devils are very weak and don’t last for long periods of time. Sometimes, they can last a few seconds to even a few minutes and are usually tall and skinny. They’re not typically very wide, but they can be hundreds or even thousands of feet tall in some cases, although rare once again. Although they are common to form during droughts, they can develop during any dry spell throughout the year.