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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

Colorado Tornadoes

By Phil Plait

Yesterday (June 4, 2015), my wife and I went biking. I wanted to show her a place I love to go, not far from Longmont, Colorado, a town north of Boulder. We put the bikes in our truck and headed over that way, enjoying a leisurely hour or so pedaling around. It was hot and sunny.

As we headed back, I saw a huge cloud to the east. Usually those head away from us, but just a few minutes later it was clearly moving our way. It didn’t rain, and it wasn’t that windy, so I wasn’t overly concerned. Just cautious.

It started hailing, and I mean balls of ice 3 cm across, the size of golf balls. I was marveling at this, and went outside to see. I looked all around, didn’t see anything dangerous, so I picked up a few. I was literally about to take a picture of them in my hand when I turned around, looked over across the way, and saw a triangular cloud, tip pointed down.

Um. It looked like a forming tornado, but not exactly like what you expect. Then, literally within a few seconds, it elongated and touched down. It was easily several kilometers away, so I wasn’t panicked — I took a quick look around to make sure there weren’t any more. I snapped a few pix, and then we hightailed it out of there.

In this zoom of that shot (I darkened it and enhanced the contrast) you can see the debris cloud at the tip. Holy wow.

That tornado apparently did some damage north of Longmont and west of Berthoud, but there are no reported injuries. There were some very dramatic tornadoes farther south, too. After the one we saw went away, a gigantic storm cloud settled over us, and the lightning began. I have NEVER seen anything like it. There was almost continuous lightning, and very much continuous thunder, for hours. The power went out, unsurprisingly, and we ate PBJs lit by erratic electric flashes.

The storm was pretty much over by 10:30, and sometime after midnight the power came back, waking us up. We’re all OK, and not much worse for wear, but geez. I’ve always kinda sorta wanted to see a tornado from a safe distance. Now I have, and I can very much say I don’t ever want to see another one again.

My sincere thanks to everyone on my Twitter and Facebook feeds for their well-wishes. Yesterday was very weird, and it's given me a renewed understanding and appreciation for what Nature can do given the right conditions.

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