May 28, 2018


Initial Target
Storm Intercepts
Yuma, CO
Springfield, IL 8:56 PM 5/27/2018
Burlington, CO 8:42 PM 5/28/2018
Cope, CO
0 mph
Landspout tornado, supercellular tornado, wall cloud, RFD clear slot


Triple point play in eastern CO. Intercepted developing supercell with pronounced flanking line near Cope, CO noting several landspout tornadoes off flanking line followed by brief supercellular tornado. Intercepted supercell with rotating lowering near Stratton, CO before the gust front unzipped and fizzled, ending chase in Burlington, CO.

Crew and Equipment

Chase partners: Anton Seimon, Tracie Seimon. Equipment: Sony AX100, Canon 60D, Samsung S7 Edge.




I was gearing up for a multi-day run to the Plains at the tail end of May and into June. Monday, May 28 looked like a kind of “day before the day” warm-up type play before activity was forecast to pick up in the Northern Plains. A typical 5% Colorado day that could go either way: maybe some upslope supercell shots, maybe a pretty tornado if you hit the upslope lottery, or maybe just some “upslop” junk . I was kind of on the fence about chasing it as it didn’t look like a big day and Brindley was unable to join me until later in the week due to prior obligations. Anton and Tracie Seimon were already on the road, however, and gung-ho going for it. Fear of missing out and wanting to be a team player spurred me into action and I was on the road for Colorado the night before the chase. I camped in my car for the night at a Missouri state park between the towns of Brookfield and Chillicothe before getting up early and making the haul to Sterling, Colorado.

Cool and Misty Start
13 miles ESE of Sterling, CO
2:31 PM
Coming in from the northeast, I was in cool and misty skies. It looked pretty bleak, but I was watching the visible satellite and could see clearing skies to the South.

2 miles WSW of Joes, CO
4:03 PM
I rendezvoused with Anton and Tracie near the one horse town of Joes, Colorado. We found our clearing and the atmosphere was rapidly destabilizing. With some conditional uncertainty, the day had started with 5% tornado probabilities. Now, however, a prominent north to south outflow boundary was tracking westward out of Kansas, intersecting a pronounced east to west stationary front. Big things often happen when you’ve got supercells interacting with pronounced boundaries. The Storm Prediction Center upgraded to 10% by the late morning outlook.
Right on cue, we had initiation near the boundary intersection. We moved a few miles west past the town of Cope to get close enough to see the bases, while watching towers explode in front of us.

Building Storms
3 miles W of Cope, CO
5:04 PM
We held our ground to the east for quite a while. The storms would need time to mature, and we didn’t want to lose our position due to sparse roads or chaser traffic. While we were sitting on the side of a gravel road, Anton spotted the dust plume of a landspout far in the distance. “Tornado!” he called out. I couldn’t really spot it or get a camera on it before it started to fade, however.

Landspout Tornado
5 miles W of Cope, CO
6:01 PM
Spouts often spin up in groups, we were pretty distant, and trees were blocking our view below the flanking line, so we decided to nose in a couple more miles. We hung out watching flat, dark bases, strongly backlit against an orange sky, while our main target storm still continued to slowly ramp up without much discernible structure to our west.

Several miles to our south, beneath the building flanking line, dust plumes started to kick up. The hollow, translucent tube of a landspout tornado took shape. We positioned apart on the road to get different deployment angles and turned our vehicles south to shoot video.
Another landspout started to spin-up, moving west.
The dusty circulations came and went, and at one point I had at least three in my frame. It was difficult to tell where one ended and the next one started, but it looked like a “spoutbreak” was underway. We were still fairly distant and I was zooming in quite a bit to get these shots. We were after supercell tornadoes for our research project, and were playing much closer to the forward flank in anticipation of that. The prominent north south boundary and unzipping flanking line should have been the tip off to the spout show, but we didn’t realize it would wind up being the main show of the day or else we would have been positioned much further south.

Twin Spouts
5 miles W of Cope, CO
6:14 PM
After several minutes, two spouts emerged as dominant. Helical patterns revolved around the tube of the right spout, the left looked like it was sheathed in an outer dust plume. Perhaps one was anticyclonic, but I couldn’t tell from my position.
The right spout drew in a large volume of dirt, filling in as large, dark column from bottom to top. The left spout meanwhile looked like it was becoming rain wrapped. I let the spouts translate left across my video frame.

Landspout Tornadoes
5 miles W of Cope, CO
6:17 PM
The spouts seemed to peak in intensity. The right spout looked menacing and turbulent. The left spout managed to condense a funnel cloud as it wrapped itself in rain with a sheath of dust. Rain was picking up as the storm’s forward flank encroached on my position, the spouts were moving off, and my contrast was fading as a result. The structure in the circulations was great, but I figured these might continue for a while, and I better try to improve my view. Perhaps I’d even be able to get quite close if they crossed a county road to the south.

Supercellular Tornado
Cope, CO
6:26 PM
I drove through Cope along with a few other chasers darting this way and that. Regaining my view on the south side of town, there was some difficulty using the short range radios, and I wound up getting split up from Anton and Tracie. The spouts looked like they were fizzling, of course after I left my position to get closer. The dust tubes were expanding and fading. Instead of racing down south to chase the remnants, it looked like the supercell was finally ramping up with some structure to the immediate west. An occluded mesocyclone was partially rain wrapped, sporting a wall cloud with tail cloud. I nosed in on a gravel road just south and west of town to get a peek. A tornado briefly condensed beneath the wall cloud, difficult to make out through the rain wrapping. The funnel lasted mere seconds. It kicked up once more a few moments later and twisted in a ribbon like the subvortex of a developing tornado. But the rear flank quickly filled in with rain. If the developing tornado continued to grow, it was now buried and I would be unable to see it.
The supercell looked like it was solidly transitioning to HP and also falling apart as it tracked north of the east-west boundary. I was worried that that was going to be it for the chase. The storm had gone up too close to the boundary, not allowing for enough time to mature in the warm sector, and only the spout show off the flanking line and a brief spin-up could materialize.

I was able to hook back up with Anton and Tracie after sharing coordinates on the phone. We headed south toward promising new development: a tower with a solid base.

Rotating Supercell
13 miles NW of Stratton, CO
7:10 PM
We stopped on the grid to watch a bowl shaped lowering and streaky rain bands rotating under a donut shaped RFD clear slot. The structure looked great and I thought we were finally going to get our main supercellular tornado for the day. But the storm couldn’t get it done. It too started to gust out, the rear flank filling in with rain. Anton and Tracie continued east down the grid road to stay ahead of the storm’s forward flank and I told them I would be right behind them. I had broken one of my own cardinal rules of storm chasing, and that was turning the engine off and taking the key out of the ignition. I was setup for a structure lapse and wanted to record some natural audio without the car’s engine interfering. I had jammed the key in my pocket as I got out of the car to setup my tripod. Now with the forward flank of the supercell bearing down on me, I realized there was no key in my pocket. It had fallen out somewhere. I scrambled to find it, looking under the seats, in the cracks of the car, and then finally outside on the road as the first drops of rain from the forward flank started to come down. Nothing. I ran back into the car and tried to raise Anton and Tracie on the radio, but they were already out of range of the FRS radio. Another look around the car yielded no key. I was now getting cored by the forward flank, heavy rain coming down and the first pings of small hail. I could ride the storm out in the car, but I was worried I’d get stuck on the unpaved road, or much worse, the rear flank core and a possible tornado would track northeast toward me. I made one last effort to find the key outside. I jumped out into the now raging storm. I was blasted by fat, cold rain drops and small hail as I ran around the vehicle. There it was! About four feet off the back bumper I saw the key in the dirt. I grabbed it and jammed the gritty key into the ignition. I was driving down the gravel road now as fast I could manage in conditions, desperately trying to escape from under the forward flank to clear skies to the east. After a few miles, I caught up with Anton and Tracie, blissfully watching the storm on the side of the road in balmy air, unaware of my escapades. I got out to greet them. “Why are you completely soaked!?” Anton asked.
As the storm transitioned into a permanent HP, we started stair-stepping south down the flanking line. The north-south line was unzipping, but it soon became apparent that even that was fizzling. East surging outflow blasted beneath the line kicking out plumes of dust and a few gustnadoes. Some of these were apparently called in as tornadoes, but it was obvious that the chase was winding down.

Dinner in Burlington
Burlington, CO
8:43 PM
We called it and headed into Burlington for Mexican on the main drag. The evening light was gorgeous.


Well, it wasn't a big supercellular tornado day with a research grade shot for our project. The photogenic landspouts more than made the day, however, and would make May 28 one of the more memorable events of the year for most chasers. It was easily my best shot of a landspout tornado, but having twins in the frame was extra amazing, even if they were quite distant. Normally fairly weak, these spouts packed a punch as well, taking the powerlines down and even doing some building damage I believe.

Lessons Learned

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