Imagine you're tooling down the highway, maybe some Dave Dudley playing on the stereo, when you notice what seems to be black fog looming on the horizon. Getting closer, it becomes clear that the cloud is composed of hundreds of thousands of individual creatures, all buzzing crazily in the shape of a weak tornado.
It looks like this:
(Photo courtesy Mike Hollingshead of Extreme Instability)
Too late to roll up the window! Within seconds, the whirling cloud of insects has filled the car, coating the upholstery with a fluttering mass of crawling chitin that's trying to go all Lewis and Clark into your ear canals.
Congratulations: You've just had a brush with a "bugnado," a rare insectoid twister somewhat like a locustcane or cicadaphoon. From the available evidence, a bugnado is spawned when heavy rain or floods and optimal temperatures cause insects to hatch en masse, conjuring dense colonies of buglife that ascend into sky-darkening breeding frenzies. These superswarms of gnats or mayflies might not have enough power to tear houses from their foundations like an EF-3 tornado, but certainly can send a vehicle to a series of costly appointment with the car wash. Some swarms are so dense they can appear on radar.
The gag-inducing term "bugnado" comes courtesy of one of our favorite storm photographers here at ABC7, Mike Hollingshead. On July 4, 2011, he found himself in the middle of a droning outbreak of bugnadoes in northwest Missouri. So why call it that?
"Well, any vortex-type thing gets 'nado' stuck on the end of it, so it was the obvious thing to call it," he says via e-mail. "Like bad tornado reports are usually referred to as 'sherrifnadoes.' Since they are so good at reporting stupid stuff. Or steamnadoes. Gustnadoes. Shelfnadoes. Etc."
Hollingshead, who's responsible for some of the world's coolest nighttime supercell photography as well as photos that just make you say Whoa!, was returning from a trip shooting this summer's historic flooding of the Missouri River when something ahead brought him up short. It "looked like crazy smoke running down the interstate," he said on his website, but in actuality it was "bugs, miles of bugs hanging out over I29 in weak tube forms."
The standing water left by the floods had created prime bugnado-generation conditions. Hollingshead earlier had noticed tree tops that looked like they were blackly "smoking," the insect activity was that high. But on this night, he was in for a shocker: There was a bugnado that hovered above the pavement for nearly 15 minutes, waving gently like kelp in sea currents and splitting to form multiple vortices. Said the photographer:
The motion is a lot more intense and fast than I'm sure the images lead onto. They are much like dust devils in their motion and changes. It's sorta crazy bugs or anything living could form something that nature makes, like a perfect vortex.... It was always like one living breathing entity.
Below is a video Hollingshead shot of the protein-loaded twister; I'm pretty sure you can hear him swatting himself several times in the background. And after you watch it, head on over to the peanut gallery at the American Weather forums. Says one amused commenter: "Some people confuse a bugnado with straight-line bug damage, but in the latter, most of the victims are scratching only one side of their body, while in a bugnado, victims are scratching everywhere."