Day 10: Multiple tornadoes in three different states

rope out tornado wyoming

Just like a couple of other days this year, June 12th started off looking really great. All storm related parameters were super high but there was a great risk of all the storms firing at the same time, causing a big mess that would erode the entire day – just like May 26th last year. The season of 2017 has been really bad and many have experienced days like this turn into nothing. We tried to keep our hopes up but expectations low.

We started the morning in Ft Collins, CO, and continued north towards Cheyenne, WY. It did not take long until the storms started firing both in Colorado and north of Cheyenne. We followed a cell 30 minutes to our north but did not stay with it long when we saw the cells exploding close to Ft Collins, so we doubled back.

We core punched the storm (thank you, hail shields) and finally reached the south end, only to notice some sort of dryline moving in from the south, threatening to kill the entire storm. At this point the northern storm had dropped a tornado and it felt like the day would be much shorter than we had anticipated. When David said “We have about 5-10 minutes before this dry air reaches our storm” it felt like the day would bust. Thankfully it didn’t – at all.

Instead the supercell started rotating quickly and became a monster. In fact, when it stopped some 6-7 hours later it had passed 4 states! 

The supercell consistently had three separate meso-cyclones. Funny enough since we had been joking about the quote in the movie “Into the storm” when they are referencing a radar image with: “It’s got 5 or 6 hooks on it”. Our storm actually had three hooks on it!

We chased the first meso which was the strongest but as it turned out, the best tornado came out of the last meso. It had the shape of an elephant trunk most of the time lasted about 15 minutes but we couldn’t really catch up with it since we had to drive on muddy roads. We got to see it’s beautiful rope out stage at about 5 miles. The second tornado was in the middle meso and did not last as long as the first. 

We still kept faith in the first meso which eventually produced a tornado almost in front of us. Unfortunately, the base was hidden by a hill. Apparently, this tornado destroyed a barn as can be seen in this incredible video by Scott Peake. If we had only been a few miles ahead! Instead, at the same time we saw an anti-cyclonic tornado very close (some 100-200 yards) to our right. It never fully condensed but was very nice to see up close. At this point it felt like there were tornadoes and funnels all over the place!

We continued to follow this supercell as it progressed north in the Nebraska panhandle. As the sun was setting we drove by a train and two semi-trucks that had been knocked down by, most likely, a tornado. We continued to chase the supercell some time into the night and I believe we saw it tornado once more but I am not sure as the hills were obscuring our view much of the time.

What a day! This was my second best chase day ever (after Dodge City last year). In the end we saw at least 7 tornadoes!

storm with weird funnel
The western storm out of the two southern targets of the day. We just stopped briefly to take a few photos. Look at the “funnel” under the base!

 

funnel under base
Zoom-in on the funnel like-feature under the storm. I have no idea what this is. No tornado was reported from the storm at this time.

 

hail in palm
Even though we went actively chasing for hail some days during this trip, this is the largest hail we ever saw.

 

tornado colorado
The first, and best, tornado of the day. It had a really nice stove-pipe shape in the beginning.

 

tornado with oil pump
The tornado turned into a drill-bit and was very picturesque. At this point we were chasing the tornado on muddy roads and I had a hard time getting a clear shot to take photos.

 

we've got cows tornado
“We’ve got cows”

 

rope out tornado
The tornado when we finally stopped to observe it. It had started roping out. It had at this point gone from Colorado into Wyoming.

 

rope out
The funnel turned transparent in the last minutes of the rope out-stage.

 

not fully condensed tornado
The second tornado of the day was nowhere near fully condensed. Some damage was reported from this tornado outside Pine Bluffs, CO.

 

funnel retracting into cloud
One of the most peculiar things of this day, and my chase career in total. This started off as a funnel cloud and eventually started to get sucked into the updraft!

 

third tornado
The third tornado of the day was also from the last cell in the storm complex. We almost missed this one. It didn’t last long and we were quite far away.

 

dark blue tornado
The third tornado at a later stage.

 

round storm structure
This magnificent day did not only offer tornadoes but also some amazing structure shots.

 

three updrafts one tornado
One of the best photos I have ever taken. In it you can see the three updrafts of the storm with some amazing structure of the first meso, in the last, third, meso there is a tornado – the fourth one of the day!

 

barn tornado
The fifth tornado as it destroyed a barn behind the ridge. The photo was taken while driving and is unfortunately quite blurry. The storm was now in Nebraska.

 

anti-cyclonic tornado
The sixth tornado of the day was the closest one. It was anti-cyclonic and fairly brief and never fully condensed.

 

sixth tornado
I have lost track of my photos as I did not edit them until a few weeks later. I don’t really remember if this lowering created a tornado or not.

 

train sleeping
One of the most incredible things of the day. A tornado, or straight line winds, pushed an entire train of its tracks!

 

sleepy truck
Close to the train there were two trucks flipped on the side as well. I don’t know if this truck was thrown here or if it had parked outside of the road and then got flipped.

 

sunset mammatus
Just before sunset this epic day was about to end with some amazing mammatus clouds.

 

after dark tornado I think
There was a (7th!) tornado reported from the storm at the time of this photo. We never saw the base of it as it was hidden behind a ridge. This is the best photo I got from it a bit later, at this point I don’t think it had a tornado though.

Day 9: Cap bust in Wyoming

wyoming flooded fields

Today’s main target was really Minnesota, although it looked like squall lines and night time chasing. Fortunately, in the morning it turned out SE Wyoming would actually have a chance to produce severe weather. SPC even put a 2% tornado risk in the area where were more or less just prepared to have a down day anyway.

Driving through Wyoming was just as nice as driving through Montana yesterday. The vast fields, hills and mountains make up for scenery that makes you want to stop every 5 minutes to take a new photo. 

We stopped in one of those places and started waiting for the moisture and CAPE to move its way in to the area. We waited…and waited…and waited. At around 7 p.m. we gave up and started driving south towards Ft Collins, CO. At that point there was actually a super-tiny tornado warned storm in Casper, WY, where we did our lunch forecast. 

The main focus of the day was, however, Monday that is starting to look really good. 

colorado road

colorado road

wyoming

wyoming

Day 10 – If it weren’t for this amazing funnel cloud…

…this day would have been the most disappointing chase day ever!

I know I refer a lot to SPC and their rating of risks etc. Mainly, it is because I am not skilled enough to do my own forecasts and assess that risk myself. So, when I saw an Enhanced Risk and 10% Tornado Risk (which was the first time I had seen that) I was really excited. It felt like it was not a matter of if I would see a tornado today but when, how, and how many!

I was about to learn an important lesson.

There were two targets of the day: Eastern Colorado or Southeast Wyoming. I was happy when we chose Wyoming since it was the place where I had seen my first tornado back in 2009. The Gushen County-tornado that was not only an incredible tornado but also covered by Vortex 2. Our corner of Wyoming also got a tornado watch later on, luring all the chasers from Colorado up north.

We waited and waited but the storms that started never really took off. When they finally did they were barely severe. We chose a target storm and followed it into Gushen County, actually. It really looked like crap but while sitting in the car it actually spun out a really long and, actually, quite amazing funnel cloud that lasted for about a minute! It was a horizontal funnel cloud and reached half-way down to the ground.

The first long funnel was followed up by another a few minutes later. The storm really wasn’t organized at all so it was more a lucky shot. We were the only one near it so I believe we could have been the only ones to have seen it, which added to the pleasure.

Horizontal funnel cloud
The long funnel cloud we saw.
funnel
The other funnel cloud from the storm. This one was more vertical did not last as long.

What did not add to the pleasure was that this would turn out to be the highlight of the day. The best storm was positioned far between good road options and even the best storm did not look all that great.

possible funnel cloud
Possibly a funnel cloud at our cell sometime around sunset.
funnel cloud
That same funnel cloud a few seconds earlier. As you can see the image has very low contrast. It was shot with a telescope lens and was also cropped and photoshopped. This may give you an idea of how far away we were from actually seeing something from this cell.

Outside of the funnels we saw today it was a very disappointing day. I really thought we would see tornadoes but the storms seemed nowhere near producing tornadoes. Well, actually, Brandon Ivey reported a tornado from our cell at 10 p.m. but at that time we were long gone. I am quite impressed that they (StormChasingTour.com) persevered that long, as a matter of fact.

On a more positive note, the day was a very social day. I accidently met Brian Morganti while chasing (who was my tour guide in 2013) and also Roger Hill, who I had been in contact with over email as well as the Extreme Tornado Tours-people.

mushroom cloud
Mushroom cloud
outlaw chasers
Quick stops on the road to eat.

 

Day 6 – Supercells and sunsets

We continued to drive towards to the storm that had created the tornado earlier in the afternoon. It still had a strong rotation which created a super cell with a beautiful round shape with different layers. We drover in underneath the base hoping for more tornadoes but the supply had run out, I guess 🙂

Instead, we once again experienced the tremendous feeling of being under a super cell with a wall cloud underneath eating its way over the fields. The sun was about to set, which painted the sky in dozens of lovely colors. When the sun went down the dying storm played out a lightning spectacle I have never seen the likes of before. When you have seen what nature can do during the day and then hear the storm clouds rumble and flash, you feel very, very small.

We called it a day around 10 p.m. and began to move towards the hotel and something to eat, having the twin super cells next to us. They moved diagonally along our route, towards the highway we drove on and continued to throw out amazing lightning that lit up the whole sky. It was probably 2-3 flashes per second! This accompanied to the radio in the dark announcing: “We have a tornado warning. Go down to your basements. Go down to your basements. This is a very dangerous storm. This is a very dangerous storm. etc. etc.”. Quite dramatic!

The day ended at a restaurant that, a few minutes before, had been in the way of super-cells but was left undamaged. We ate dinner with the whole group of researchers,  TV people, etc.

What a day!!

stacked pancakes storm
Supercell with the stacked pancakes-shape. “I know, let’s go in underneath it!”
shelf cloud
A little closer, the shelf cloud underneath looks amazing.
shelf cloud
Here we are just at the edge of the cloud. The shelf cloud (dark gray) looks like something from a disaster movie.
perfect shadow
The cloud is so well defined that you see a completely straight shadow from the sun.
90 degree angle on cloud
Looking the other way you can see the second super-cell that is as finely rounded and very, very well defined. The wall cloud underneath is barely visible.
mmaturs clouds
The sun begins to go down and creates long shadows of the mammatus clouds.
mammatus
A magnificent sight.
lightning
I took about 50 pictures of lightning at this stop. This was the only one I caught 🙂 At this point it flashed only about every 10 seconds so it was a bit difficult.
post storm discussions
We came back to a local restaurant and watched the weather news. The feeling was very much like when you have been to a football game with your favorite team and seen them win. Then you come home, watching the sports news to see the goals and everything else from all other angles, and discuss each others’ perceptions of today’s event.
hail used as ice in drinks
Huge hail. The storm chasers used them as ice for their drinks!

Day 6 – Funnel cloud

I do not remember if it was the same storm with the tornado that we ended up by a bit later again, but I believe it was. We stopped out on a field where a wall cloud came in slowly and majestically. It was the perfect arrangement for a beautiful tornado, but the rotation was not strong enough. It created a very clear funnel (i.e. a tornado that does not reach the ground) but could never reach all the way down. A very beautiful experience that I could enjoy more now that the adrenaline had begun to subside.

funnel cloud
A funnel cloud out on the wheat field.
stopping
We stop again, this time since our tour guides wanted to talk to a guy that has been doing storm chasing in 50 years! It’s the guy in white, I saw him in a book I bought later so I guess he is somewhat of a storm chasing celebrity.
sun dogs
This was one of those days when everything goes right and you see things everywhere. To the left of the sun is a so called “sun dog”, a miniature sun next to the sun (as a part of a halo). A celestial phenomenon that I have no idea whatsoever of how it arises.
two supercells with anvils
Two super-cells joining each other. One can see the lenticular clouds on the right cloud and Mammatus on the anvil (”roof cloud”) above.
anvil
Here you can clearly see that there are strong winds on a higher altitude. They pull out the upper part of clouds to an anvil.
long train
A picture where the camera, for once, is not pointing upwards. An incredibly long train.

Day 6 – Tornado

Yes, today we finally found a tornado – and what a tornado!

Everything looked pretty good in the morning, the first storm we were going for to seemed to have all the attributes we want: a low wall cloud, strong rotation and large hail.

We come out just in time to bring out our cameras. The storm, shortly thereafter, starts to create a funnel cloud. The funnel, however, retreats back into the cloud. At the second attempt it reaches all the way down – it is now a tornado. The tornado grows rapidly and soon becomes a few hundred meter wide beast. After a short while we end up in the path of pea-sized hail and start to regroup ourselves.

During our repositioning the hail storm grew to the order of golf balls. The car was then actually under a rain of ice balls as big as golf balls! The noise inside the car was crazy, when the hail hit the roof, windows and wind shield.

We set off to the next point where the tornado had more of a rain cloud around it which slowly rotated and simultaneously made the tornado a little bit difficult to see. We drove further out on a road that was bordered by dozens of storm watcher cars. By then the tornado was heading straight at us from the right. I wanted to stop but did not really get an approval from the tour guide :).

Finally, we positioned ourselves on a small plateau where we had a great view of how the tornado roped out – the last stage. We were lucky enough to have the sun in our backs which made the tornado completely white. A fantastic sight!

And this was just the beginning of the day…

funnel becoming a tornado
Touchdown – a narrow funnel reaches all the way down to the ground, i.e. the funnel becomes a tornado.

 

tornado wyoming
The tornado is fully developed and is surrounded by hail as shown by the greenish color around.

 

tornado tube
One can see how the tornado extends up to a tube up into the cloud

 

rainwrapped tornado
The tornado becomes enveloped in rain and becomes a bit harder to see.

 

roped out tornado
New position, tornado has begun to die out a bit, you can see how it disappears into a green hole in the sky.

 

green tornado
This sight was so beautiful that I just have to show another one taken from another angle!

 

funny looking tornado
Now we are up on the plateau and the sun is in our backs. One can see how it begins to become a lot smaller at the bottom. Check out the “smoke rings” around the top part!

 

bird with a beak tornado
The narrow part becomes larger further up and makes it look like a bird with a beak

 

Me and the tornado
Me and the tornado

 

reoped out tornado wyoming lagrange
An amazing sight. The tornado starts to rope out and spins around on its own axis.

 

tornado almost gone
10-15 minutes after it started, it dissipates. I have had a stupidly happy grin on my face all the time. The mood in the car is ecstatic!