Colorado Tornadoes 2015

All Photographs Brian A. Morganti

Elbert County Colorado

"Matheson - Simla" Tornadoes

June 4th, 2015

The Palmer Divide area of Colorado looked like a good place to be on June 4th, 2015 if you wanted to see a pretty supercell thunderstorm.  That same area had produced a beautiful storm the day before near Colorado Springs, and by the morning of June 4th adequate moisture was again being carried into eastern Colorado by southeasterly surface winds.  Given the upslope flow and high moisture values along with a breakable CAP I felt confident that I would find an isolated supercell or two later in the day, and maybe even a brief tornado if I was lucky!  I had no idea that this day would wind up producing one of the most prolific tornado producing supercells of my 19 year chase career, nor that so many of these tornadoes would be both anti-cyclonic and extremely photogenic.  The purpose of this webpage is to document a time-line of the events as they unfolded on this incredible day .  We'll start with the first image below of the initial supercell that had some nice LP characteristics when this photo was taken at 3:27pm MDT.  The image was taken from the intersection of I-70 & Highway 86 which is a little west of Limon, Colorado.  You are looking west (highway 86 is visible to the lower right).  At this point the storm was moving slowly to the southeast, along with a second storm that had formed on it's western flank.  These two cells would merge into one and produce their first tornadoes within the next two hours. 

Click on Images for Larger View


Initial Supercell - West of Limon, CO - 3:27pm MDT



Photo Sequence # 1:  CR149 & CR66 Looking WNW - 4.8 Miles South of Matheson, Colorado - Tornado Count:  3 - 4

My plan was to get far enough ahead of this supercell in order to view the entire structure and take my time imaging without having to worry about being too close to any developing hail cores.  I headed south out of Limon on Highway 71 and then west via the Colorado gravel road network.  I stopped just west of CR149 along CR66 (see map below) and had a great view of what was now becoming a nicely sculpted supercell to my west-northwest.  The storm was moving slowly almost due south and I had plenty of time to set up my tripods and take images.  It wasn't long until an area of rapid rotation developed at cloud base level and a tornado looked imminent.  At approximately 5:17pm MDT a cone tornado developed and slowly worked its way to ground level.  I am referring to this tornado as the "Matheson Tornado", even though I was nearly 5 miles due south of Matheson.  The touchdown was brief however and it slowly lifted during the next several minutes.  At 5:23pm MDT I spotted what appeared to be another tornado well off to my northwest as shown in the image with the silos.  This could have been a second cell to my north that was not associated with the main show to my west, I took one quick image then turned my attention back to my west.  At the same time new and second tornado again formed to my west and slowly reached towards the ground.  This tornado was quite persistent, and although it may have lifted once or twice it pretty much maintained ground contact for the next 21 minutes until I took my final image from this location.  In all I saw a minimum of three separate tornadoes from this location between 5:17 & 5:44pm MDT...a period of 27 minutes with almost constant tornadic ground contact.  The few video clips I took revealed anti-cyclonic tornado rotation.  During this entire time the parent supercell and tornadoes were moving primarily due south.  After taking my last image from this location it was time to move south in order to stay ahead of this storm and any new tornadoes that might form.




First Tornado Touches Down - 5:17pm MDT



Wider View - 5:18pm MDT



Parent Supercell & Tornado - 5:19pm MDT



First Tornado Lifts - 5:20pm



First Tornado Roping Out  - 5:21pm MDT



Possible Tornado Northwest - 5:23pm MDT



Second Tornado Forms - 5:23pm MDT



Second Tornado on Ground - 5:34pm MDT



Closer View - 5:35pm MDT



Looking West from CR149 along CR66 - 5:37pm MDT



Zoom In - 5:38pm MDT



Tornado & Corral Looking West - 5:40pm MDT



Wider View - 5:41pm MDT



Zoom In - 5:42pm MDT



West Along CR66 - 5:44pm MDT





Photo Sequence # 2:  CR149 & CR50 Looking West - 4 Miles South of Photo Stop #1 - Tornado Count:  3 

My next photo stop was on CR50 a little west of CR149, and all images shot at this location are labeled as the "Simla" tornadoes.  I sat here and watched the supercell approach from my northwest as 20-25mph warm inflow winds from the southeast continued to fuel this storm.  I could just barely make out the shape of a tornado imbedded in a heavy rain core a few miles off to my northwest.  Eventually the rain dissipated some and I could see the shape of a new tornado begin to form about two miles to my northwest as shown in the first image below.  The storm was now moving in a more southeasterly direction and was beginning to pick up speed as well.  Suddenly a much closer tornado formed less than a mile to my northwest, possibly between 1/4 and 1/2 mile away.  This was a thin rope-like tornado that picked up a large amount of red dust before dissipating a minute or two after it formed.  At 6:12pm MDT the inflow dust and obscuring rain curtains abated some and I now had a much better view of the more distant tornado along with some amazing supercell structure.  This was quite a beauty, but the show was far from over!



Simla Tornado Forms to Northwest - 6:05pm MDT



Simla Tornado Lowers - 6:06pm MDT



Simla Tornado Touchdown - 6:06pm MDT



Dual Tornadoes to Northwest of CR50 - 6:07pm MDT



Dual Tornadoes to Northwest of CR50 - 6:07pm MDT



 Tornado & Supercell Structure NW of CR50 - 6:12pm MDT



I was just getting ready to leave in order to get farther south and stay ahead of this tornado or any new ones that were yet to form.  Just before pulling away, I noticed a large dark dust whirl in my rearview mirror directly to my west on CR50.  I quickly got back out of my SUV and captured the next sequence of images showcasing a beautiful needle shaped tornado.  This one had formed rather quickly out of a very chaotic sky, and was also anti-cyclonic.  The tornado's motion was more or less due south and it was definitely wasting no time in heading in that direction.  A grabbed a few images and video, and then hastily continued south via CR149.



New Needle Tornado Forms CR50 - 6:15pm MDT


Wider View of Needle Tornado - 6:16pm MDT

Needle Tornado Races South - 6:16pm MDT


Needle Tornado Connects to Ground - 6:17pm MDT



Needle Tornado Continues Moving South - 6:18pm MDT





Photo Sequence # 3:  CR149 Looking WNW - 2 Miles South of Photo Stop #2 - Tornado Count:  1

As I headed south on CR149 the Needle tornado lifted but I could still see a new area of cloud base rotation forming to my west.  A few minutes later a new tornado began forming directly to my west and I took the first two images below at 6:22pm MDT looking west through my passenger side window.  A minute later I was getting ahead of the tornado and could no longer see it through my passenger side window as it was hidden by my vehicle's blind spot.  I quickly stopped and took the next series of images of this beautifully formed white cone tornado that extended fully to ground level and was kicking up a large red dust whirl.  I took several sequential images in less than a minute.  The time was now 6:23pm MDT and it was time to keep moving south.  The tornado was picking up speed and was edging a little more eastward towards CR149. 

See the Satellite map below for the photo location of these first six images.



New Tornado - Southbound CR149 - 6:22pm MDT


Cone Tornado Forms - Southbound CR149 - 6:22pm MDT

Firmly on Ground west of CR149 - 6:23pm MDT


Large Dust Whirl - 6:23pm MDT


Getting Closer - 6:23pm MDT

Zoom In - 6:23pm MDT




I then continued south on CR149 and took the next series of images by pointing the camera somewhat rearward through the passenger side window.  At this point the tornado was a little to my northwest and was continuing to kick up a huge amount of red dust which at times was beginning to wrap up and around the white condensation funnel. The tornado was continue to move to the SSE and at this point I am now about 2.75 miles south of the CR149 & CR50 intersection.

See the Satellite map below for the photo location of these next four images.



Continuing Southbound CR149 - 6:24pm MDT


Southbound CR149 "see map below" - 6:24:37pm MDT


Southbound CR149 - 6:24pm MDT



Wrapping Red Dust Tube - 6:25pm MDT






Photo Sequence # 4:  CR149 & CR34 Looking North - Tornado Count:  -0-  Same Tornado as shown in the above Sequence

As I was nearing the intersection of CR149 & CR34 the wrapping red dust tube had completed its encirclement of the condensation funnel as shown in the first image below.  Shortly after taking that image I pulled west on CR34 to have a better look at the tornado which was now less than a mile directly to my north.  There was still strong inflow streaming in from the southeast as can be seen in the center image below, but the tornado was beginning to weaken some.  I took one more image as the inflow dust subsided and then decided to gain some distance to the south.



Full Red Dust Tube - 6:25pm MDT


Inflow Dust & Dissipating Tornado - 6:26pm MDT

Supercell Base & Dissipating Tornado - 6:26pm MDT




Photo Sequence # 5:  CR149 3.5 miles south of CR34 Looking North - Tornado Count:  3 - 4

My next goal was to drop south a few miles and find a high spot where I could look back at the approaching supercell.  I wanted the big picture of how this storm was evolving with the hope of seeing more tornadoes as the storm moved in my direction.  I found a great hilltop view looking back to my north from where CR149 deviates from straight south, or about 3.5 miles south of CR34.  Amazingly there were no other chasers nearby and I once again had a fantastic view of the supercell structure filling the sky to my north.  It wasn't long before I spotted the first tornado form to my distant north in the storm's rear flank base structure.  This was at 6:31pm MDT and the tornado was rather brief.  It is possible that the tornado formed out of an anti-cyclonic mesocyclone, but the distance was too great to determine the direction of rotation.  Three minutes later at 6:34pm MDT a second tornado formed from the storm's forward flank storm base beneath a shallow wall cloud.  This one lasted a minute or so before completely lifting.  Two minutes later a third tornado formed in basically the same area and quickly touched down at 6:37pm MDT.  This one had a long slender cone, similar to the earlier needle tornado, and like that one had a large bowl shape upper-funnel where it was attached to the cloud base.  This third tornado lasted about 2 or 3 minutes until it became completely wrapped in rain, as shown on the last image below. 

Could there have been more than these 3 tornadoes?  Possibly, as the storm was to my back in the six minutes it took me to get from CR34 to the highpoint view along CR149.  These would be the last tornadoes I would see from this amazing supercell.  Thus, I can reasonably confirm 10 different tornadoes with this storm  and possibly as many as 12.  This is not counting ones that may have briefly lifted and then touched back down again.



Supercell Structure - Brief Tornado - 6:31pm MDT


Second Tornado Forms - 6:34pm MDT

Third Tornado Forms - 6:37pm MDT


Closer View - 6:37pm MDT


Wider View - 6:38pm MDT

Wide Angle View - 6:38pm MDT


Zoomed In View - 6:38pm MDT


Rain Wrapped - 6:40pm MDT




Photo Sequence # 6:  Tornadic Supercell Structure Looking North from Highway 94 - Tornado Count:  0

I waited a few minutes before leaving my last photo stop, but the rain core prevented me from seeing any more tornadoes.  I then continued south on CR149 to where it intersects with Highway 94 and then drove east for several miles.  The storm was still moving to the east-southeast and I stopped several times along Highway 94 looking back north at the beautiful storm structure, but no more tornadoes were observed.  At about 7:06pm I took my last image of this storm before heading back west on Highway 94 towards Colorado Springs.  



Looking North from Rt94 - Supercell Structure 6:51pm MDT



Looking North from Rt94 - Supercell Structure 7:06pm MDT




Photo Sequence # 7:  LP Supercell Structure Looking North from Highway 94 from near Ellicott, Colorado - Tornado Count:  0

While heading west towards Colorado Springs a pretty LP supercell formed to the north of Highway 94.  Normally, the storm structure that was displayed with this little supercell could have easily been the highlight of my chase day.  I was still trying to comprehend what had all transpired during the past few hours and came very close to not stopping to photograph this storm cell.  Of course, now I'm glad that I did and I thought it was worth including here as it was a great ending to a fabulous day!



LP Supercell - Ellicott, CO - 7:45pm MDT


LP Supercell - Ellicott, CO - 7:57pm MDT




Storm Prediction Center 13Z Convective Outlook - MD for 0153pm MDT & 0820pm MDT - Tornado Watch Boxes - June 4th, 2015

As can be derived from the following graphics, it is easy to see that the biggest risk of severe as of 1300 UTC was well to the north and east of the Palmer Divide in Colorado, with only a 2% risk of tornadoes just barely extending into this region.  An MD issued at 1:53pm MDT discusses the threat of severe with a couple of tornadoes possible into east central Colorado including the Palmer Divide, as ongoing storms cells were expected to mature later in the afternoon.  At 6:05pm a new tornado watch box was issued to the east of the Palmer Divide.  However, the radar signature of the soon to become a prolific tornado producer can be seen on this graphic to the northeast of Colorado Springs and is located on the southern fringe of an older tornado watch box (the faint red outline).  The last graphic is for an MD that was issued at 7:20pm MDT and discusses the outflow boundary from a persistent supercell thunderstorm over southeast Elbert County.  I can only surmise that the lack of mention of any tornadoes with this storm was due to relatively few chasers on this storm and/or the lack of cell phone coverage.  





GOES 14 Visible Imagery of Eastern Colorado - Animation (1:15pm to 7:30pm MDT) Showing Evolution of Severe Thunderstorm including the Elbert County Tornadic Storm.

The evolution of the tornadic cell was captured while GOES-14 was operating in SRSO-R mode. An animated gif of the evolution from 1915 UTC 4 June through 0130 UTC on 5 June is (warning: 190M animation!) here. A YouTube video of the mp4 is below. Note that the tornado formed along the obvious moisture boundary made visible by the arc of cumulus clouds south and east of the severe storm. (This post from the Hazardous Weather Testbed blog shows the moisture gradient as a gradient in CAPE) One-minute imagery allows an extraordinarily detailed look at features in the very dynamic cloud-top; overshooting tops develop and decay very quickly as the storm develops and matures. An animation of 10.7m imagery from 2100 UTC through 0600 UTC on 5 June is available on YouTube here. Click here (180M gif) for a storm-centered animated gif of the tornadic storm (Also available as an mp4 and on YouTube).




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