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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary


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a wind which rises suddenly from almost every point, is exceedingly impetuous and rapid, and imparts a whirling motion to dust, sand, water, and occasionally to bodies of great weight and bulk, carrying them either upward or downward, and scattering them about in different directions. Whirlwinds and water spouts are supposed to proceed from the same cause; their only difference being, that the latter pass over the water, and the former over the land. Both of them have a progressive as well as a circular motion, generally rise after calms and great heats, and occur most frequently in warm latitudes. The wind blows in every direction from a large surrounding space, both toward the water spout and the whirlwind; and a water spout has been known to pass, in its progressive motion, from sea to land, and, when it has reached the latter, to produce all the phenomena and effects of a whirlwind. There is no doubt, therefore, of their arising from a similar cause, as they are both explicable on the same general principles. In the imagery employed by the sacred writers, these frightful hurricanes are introduced as the immediate instruments of the divine indignation: "He shall take them away as with a whirlwind, both living and in his wrath," Psalms 58:9 . "God shall rebuke them, and they shall flee far off, and shall be chased as the chaff of the mountains before the wind, and like a rolling thing before the whirlwind," Isaiah 17:13 . "The Lord hath his way in the whirlwind and in the storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet," Nahum 1:3 . All these are familiar images to the inhabitants of eastern countries, and receive some elucidation from the subjoined descriptions of English travellers. "On the 25th," says Bruce, "at four o'clock in the afternoon, we set out from the villages of the Nuba, intending to arrive at Basbock, where is the ferry over the Nile; but we had scarcely advanced two miles into the plain, when we were enclosed in a violent whirlwind, or what is called at sea the water spout. The plain was red earth, which had been plentifully moistened by a shower in the night time. The unfortunate camel that had been taken by Cohala seemed to be nearly in the centre of its vortex; it was lifted and thrown down at a considerable distance, and several of its ribs broken; although, as far as I could guess, I was not near the centre, it whirled me off my feet, and threw me down upon my face, so as to make my nose gush out with blood: two of the servants, likewise, had the same fate. It plastered us all over with mud, almost as smoothly as could have been done with a trowel. It took away my sense and breathing for an instant; and my mouth and nose were full of mud when I recovered. I guess the sphere of its action to be about two hundred feet. It demolished one half of a small hut, as if it had been cut through with a knife, and dispersed the materials all over the plain, leaving the other half standing." "When there was a perfect calm," observes Morier, "partial and strong currents of air would arise, and form whirlwinds, which produced high columns of sand all over the plain. Those that we saw at Shiraz were formed and dissipated in a few minutes: nor is it the nature of this phenomenon to travel far; it being a current of air that takes its way in a capricious and sudden manner, and is dissolved by the very nature of its formation. Whenever one of them took our tents, it generally disturbed them very materially, and frequently threw them down. Their appearance was that of water spouts at sea, and perhaps they are produced in the same manner." And Burchell remarks: "The hottest days are often the most calm; and at such times the stillness of the atmosphere was sometimes suddenly disturbed in an extraordinary manner. Whirlwinds, raising up columns of dust to a great height in the air, and sweeping over the plains with momentary fury, were no unusual occurrence. As they were always harmless, it was an amusing sight to watch these tall pillars of dust as they rapidly passed by, carrying up every light substance to the height of from one to even three or four hundred feet. The rate at which they travelled varied from five to ten miles in the hour: their form was seldom straight, nor were they quite perpendicular, but uncertain and changing. Whenever they happened to pass over our fire, all the ashes were scattered in an instant, and nothing remained but the heavier sticks and logs. Sometimes they were observed to disappear, and in a minute or two afterward to make their reappearance at a distance farther on. This occurred whenever they passed over rocky ground, or a surface on which there was no dust, nor other substances sufficiently light to be carried up in the vortex. Sometimes they changed their colour, according to that of the soil or dust which lay in their march; and when they crossed a tract of country where the grass had lately been burned, they assumed a corresponding blackness. But to-day the calm and heat of the air was only the prelude to a violent wind, which commenced as soon as the sun had sunk, and continued during the greater part of the night. The great heat and long-protracted drought, of the season had evaporated all moisture from the earth, and rendered the sandy soil excessively light and dusty. Astonishing quantities of the finer particles of this sand were carried up by the wind, and filled the whole atmosphere, where, at a great height, they were borne along by the tempest, and seemed to be real clouds, although of a reddish hue; while the heavier particles, descending again, presented, at a distance, the appearance of mist or driving rains."

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Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Whirlwind'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. 1831-2.

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