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Dust-laden twisters typical of barren deserts have started springing up in the bone-dry Waikato.
Stunned shopper Paula Munro captured video footage of a twister funnelling about 100 metres into the air west of Hamilton's Te Awa shopping centre on Sunday afternoon.
The bright orange dust devil looked like it was heading straight for the carpark, stopping people dead in their tracks.
Another shopper, Amanda Harper, said she saw it at about 1.30pm.
''It lasted five minutes but didn't look dangerous,'' she said.
''It was a fascinating sight to see.''
MetService spokesman Dan Corbett quickly identified the phenomenon as a dust devil.
They were a common occurrence on the parched earth of Arizona where he lived for a time.
They happened during the hottest part of the afternoon as air rose up from hot areas of ground.
''If you had an infrared camera you could see all the warm air rising,'' Corbett said.
''Imagine a gust of wind or a seabreeze coming in that twists that thermal - that creates the dust devil.''
Dust devils were short lived and can travel for a few hundred metres and rise a similar distance into the air but they never reached cloud level, Corbett said.
Winds were strong enough to knock over garden furniture, he said, but houses and other structures were perfectly secure.
Dust devils, as per the name, also picked up fine particles from the ground as they moved.
As soon as the thermal lost energy the whole thing would collapse.
Corbett said it was a symptom of recent high temperatures in the region and there was no respite in sight over the next week at least.
- © Fairfax NZ News