Encounter with a Tornado

eNews Headline Image June 2014wAuthor

I am not superstitious but I find it interesting that my first encounter with a tornado happened on Friday, June 13th near Devil’s Tower, Wyoming.

My storm chasing trip started June 9th when I flew to Minneapolis to meet up with partners, Skip Talbot, forecaster and professional chaser (http://www.skip.cc/), and Jennifer Brindley, also a chaser and professional photographer (http://jenniferbrindleyphotography.com/storms/). This was to be an amazing eight-day adventure where we would see no fewer than six tornados.

Jennifer Brindley and Skip Talbot in front of Devil’s Tower (the site of the Close Encounter’s close encounter)

Jennifer Brindley and Skip Talbot in front of Devil’s Tower (the site of the Close Encounter’s close encounter)

On this day, the storm we would chase was expected to initiate in the late afternoon, so we took some time to hike and take a sightseeing trip to Devil’s Tower. Sure enough, by 4pm, a large storm sprang to life just west of Hulett, Wyoming and the chase was on.

Tornados typically form under the updraft base of a supercell thunderstorm. This is typically seen as a cloud lowering on the southern portion of the storm. As the base begins to rotate, a “hook” shape often forms on radar. This is a radar image of the storm taken from my phone as we made our approach (Yes, there’s an app for that!).

Tornados form under the updraft base of a supercell thunderstorm. This is typically seen as a cloud lowering on the southern portion of the storm. As the base begins to rotate, a “hook” shape often forms on radar. This is a radar image of the storm taken from my phone as we made our approach (Yes, there’s an app for that!).

Normally, when chasing storms in the Plain States, we are in open country, but this storm was maturing in the hilly country of the Bear Lodge Mountains. Very few highways intersect this area but we found a spot on Highway 24 about 15 miles southeast of Hulett. Our vantage point gave us a view to the northwest where the storm had just become Severe-Warned. The track of the storm was eastward, so it would likely make a close pass to our north.

Here I am filming the storm as it approached from the northwest. Skip Talbot is standing next to me. Photo by Jennifer Brindley.

Here I am filming the storm as it approached from the northwest. Skip Talbot is standing next to me. Photo by Jennifer Brindley.

The sky became dark and ominous, and the storm, which was now officially Tornado-Warned, showed obvious rotation at its base. Wind started gusting around us, and as the updraft base came closer  it became hidden by the foreground hills to our north. Little did we know that a strong tornado was at the heart of this rotating cloud. Soon it became obvious that the storm was becoming increasingly violent. White clouds were whipping across the ridge to our north. We felt a blast of hot air, then heard an unearthly crackling roar, both being signs that a tornado is very close. Strong winds forced me to move my camera to the shelter of the van.

Jennifer Brindley catches me moving the camera out of the wind.

Jennifer Brindley catches me moving the camera out of the wind.

 

This clip shows the rotating cloud to our north at its closest point.

Rotating Cloud (720p version)

We continued to be battered by winds that were as strong as any I have felt in my life, winds at our back that were attempting to draw us toward the storm. We felt another blast of hot air. Skip assured us that we were perfectly safe in this location.

Can you see the dark funnel shape in the center of this contrast-enhanced image?

Can you see the dark funnel shape in the center of this contrast-enhanced image?

This composite image shows our location southeast of Hulett, and the radar signature of the tornado at its beginning and at its end, with the white line connecting the two showing a possible path.

This composite image shows our location southeast of Hulett, and the radar signature of the tornado at its beginning and at its end, with the white line connecting the two showing a possible path.

Soon the winds died down as the storm passed to our northeast. As we drove away, Skip commented that we didn’t see a tornado, we experienced it. That sums it up nicely.  It was later classified as a strong EF-2 with winds of up to 120mph and a track of 18 miles. Fortunately it passed over sparsely populated country so there was no loss of life and only one injury. It did destroy a mobile home, several outbuildings, and mowed down a significant number of large ponderosa pine trees.

Damage photos from the Crook County Tornado

Damage photos from the Crook County Tornado

Damage photos from the Crook County Tornado

Damage photos from the Crook County Tornado

Damage photos from the Crook County Tornado

Damage photos from the Crook County Tornado

Damage photos from the Crook County Tornado

Damage photos from the Crook County Tornado

This was to be the first tornado encounter in an amazing storm chasing trip and was an experience I will never forget. Over the next few months, we’ll be doing the post work on the footage shot on the Epic, and we’ll make it available as soon as possible. There is so much I want to share, plus more tornado stories will be coming in future Artbeats eNewsletters, so stay tuned!

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