I thought for my first post that I’d stray a little bit from the intended theme of this blog. I believe and have yet to be proven otherwise, that people who are inclined to read about exciting machines are also likely to be interested in something like this. So here we go!
Back in June of 2018, I’d just left my job at a local car dealership in Wyoming to return to California. I had some things to iron out back home before I could begin to consider settling down somewhere for an extended period of time. Coincidentally, my interest in weather and meteorology had just recently revived, and I’d just downloaded a Doppler radar app on my phone. I had a period of about three weeks to burn before I left, so my days mostly consisted of driving around and killing time. Earlier in the day, I drove up into the Snowy Range mountains to try my hand at fishing at the local lake.
As you could probably guess at this point, this post is going to be about an extraordinarily rare and remarkable weather event. ‘Convective nuttiness,’ as we like to call it. And by about noon, with no luck fishing, I decided to head back down the mountain. Little did I know that my luck was about to change.
I arrived back at my apartment, did some cleaning, and took a nap. Around 5:00, I awoke to a phone call from Brandon, a fellow weather enthusiast. He frantically told me to check the radar and meet him in the parking lot. I went outside and ran up the hill, and my jaw hit the dirt when I saw what presented itself right behind my house.
It turns out, as I was sleeping, a magnificent low-precipitation supercell formed randomly just north of my house and began tracking its way down. Brandon and I immediately headed up the road to the edge of town and parked on a dirt road to get a better look.
Obviously, we were hoping to see a tornado. And tornadoes occasionally do occur in our county, but only once every several years. By 5:33, 15 minutes after I woke up, the base of the supercell was already rotating violently, and a suspicious lowering had formed right at the base. I checked my Doppler app, and noted a very subtle hook on the edge of the image, a telltale sign of a tornado. However, the county was not even under a tornado watch, and the sirens were still silent. As I was about to call the Sheriff’s Department, I watched the incoherent mass of scud clouds and mist beneath the base rapidly organize into a ghostly white funnel.
The genesis of this tornado happened so quickly that I couldn’t even focus the camera to get a better shot. But the reality of the situation now became clear: A tornado is on the ground just north of town, and nobody seems to have any idea. I called 911 and the National Weather Service in Cheyenne, just to let them know there was a fully formed and powerful tornado tearing up the grasslands within sight of our little city. The operators sounded surprised. A few moments later, the sirens kicked on, and curious spectators began gathering on dirt roads and rooftops to watch the incredible beast cruise along the valley at a mere 10MPH.
Some media outlets called this hour-long EF3 tornado, “the most photogenic tornado of the year.” I agree. We had the incredible and exceedingly rare opportunity to view every life stage of a tornado from a safe distance. The low precipitation cell offered a perfect view of all the moving parts, and the only known casualties of the storm were a few utility polls and an attached garage. The lack of any significant damage is particularly incredible, as this 1/3 mile wide EF3 was the most powerful ever recorded in Albany County, Wyoming.
After the funnel made its way up the eastern slope, it roped out and vanished. We joked afterward that if God wanted to teach a class on tornadoes, this could have been the perfect storm to make. Who knows. Either way, we collectively count our selves lucky to have narrowly avoided this slow-moving sky blender, as the damage to our little community would have been enormous. I think it’s safe to say that, while breathtaking, this tornado was a little too close for comfort. Luckily, no one was hurt, and property damage was minimal. But the town got a sobering reminder that nature can be a powerful and terrible adversary, and even man’s most advanced machines are no match for its awesome power.
My hat goes off to all of you storm chasers, meteorologists, and weather enthusiasts. Stay safe guys, you rock. Also, check out James Hammett’s awesome HD video of the tornado. He got some fantastic close-up footage that is truly awe-inspiring. Thanks, everyone, I hope you enjoyed my story.