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Live report: tornadic storms take Colorado by surprise

Stove pipe tornado illuminated by lightning
Stove pipe tornado illuminated by lightning
Chris Hill

Colorado was under an SPC issued 2% tornado probability risk for June 4th, 2014, and like clock work, another very large tornadic mesocyclone started forming over east Denver suburbs, gaining strength and organizing rapidly. A tornado, or multiple tornadoes (possibly a multi vortex tornado) cut an intermittent damage path across I70, from a bit southeast Byers and Deer Trail to the town of Hugo, where a small part of the large tornado complex briefly struck the town of Hugo, and did damage. The multi vortex tornado remained persistently tornadic all the way into Kansas, before bowing out.

Jane ONeil captures another beastly tornadic suppercell near I70 in Colorado
Jane ONeil captures another beastly tornadic suppercell near I70 in Colorado
Courtesy: Jane ONeill, Australian Sky & Weather's

The storm complex started forming over east Denver suburbs, and we encountered the storm east of Denver on I70 after 9pm, between Bennett and Byers, Colorado. The storm initially had a massive back sheared anvil cloud with amazing sunlit mammatus clouds, while it was forming. In front of the anvil to the southeast, Jane ONeill and Australian Sky & Weather were positioned taking amazing structure shots of enormous stacked plate mesocyclone rotations. We continued eastward, aided by an amazing visual array of strobe lightning that gave us glimpses, every 2-5 seconds, of the colossal wall cloud below the mesocyclone base. It was very obvious from the start this was a dangerous night time storm, and honestly was so big it looked more like the enormous tornadic storms that form in Texas or Oklahoma and not Colorado, but here it was, right in front of us.

"Looking at doppler scans from DIAs radar, we could see that this fierce storm also had very rapid rotation below the meso cyclone. We briefly crossed through a dime to quarter size hail core along I70, and when we got a clear unobstructed lightning illuminated view of the wall cloud, our jaws dropped. To our southeast, a very large stove pipe tornado was already on the ground, and almost impossibly another big tornado was right next to it! We drove to a safe position a bit northwest of the flanking line, as the storm was moving southeast, and we started filming and called in a tornado report. Many later reports of the same multiple tornado complex followed. In my view, this would have been far to dangerous to track, were it not for rappind Doppler updates and the almost constant intense strobe lightning that gave many clear but brief glimpses of the tornadoes exact positions." - Chris & Lisa Hill

"Man, I was so close. That mesocyclone was a monstrosity, and the wall cloud that was miles wide and rapidly rotating. I had encountered the storm carefully driving east on HWY 71, until I got to I70, and then dropped southeast ahead of the couplet. That storm was enormous and fierce. My first goal was to get to a safe place via radar and a bit of 'now casting' support from my firend Zeek, who was monitoring the storm from Kansas. These multi vortex tornadoes were beastly. I saw a stove pipe at close range, and another tornado was right next to it spinning enormous volumes of rain curtains and debris into the air as ith headed for Hugo, Colorado. When I realized how powerful the storm was, and the direction was towards the town, I immediately called-in a tornado report while filming from a safe location. Emergency management was on the road, so I stopped, realizing they had no on board Doppler radar to indicate where the tornadoes were located, so I showed them our mutual GPS position, pointed out the tornadoes on Doppler and when they were illuminated by lightning, and then showed them the path these tornadoes were heading. Fortunately for the town of Hugo, the main force of the tornadoes passed a bit north of town, with a brief tornado clipping structures and downing power poles and trees." John Hallen, Severe Warning Systems."

If you are interested in learning about tornadoes, meteorologists recommend having SkyWarn and Spotter Net training. Tornadoes are of course very dangerous, and are tracked by trained professionals, if you're not a trained professional, don't chase tornadoes!

"We need tornado reports, and have a need to collect storm data to learn more about tornado behavior. However, One of the top tornado research teams in the U.S., the notable Twistex crew were killed last year in the massive El Reno tornado, so being a professional doesn't mean tornadoes are safe, they are not. There is a phenomena in tornado alley, mostly Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and now sometimes seen in Colorado and other States, that can involve many storm chase vehicles on roads. This is referred to as a chaser convergence, and as longtime tornado chaser Chuck Doswell said, "there is no way to safely chase a rain wrapped tornado." Around big powerful storms, traffic jams occur. The thing I fear is seeing a strong milewide tornado cutting across a highway locked in a traffic jam. I don't want to be there, and I don't want to see it when it happens." - Anonymous meteorologist/scientist