Path length: 11.3 miles
Width: 600 yards
SPC coordinates for the Laramie EF3:
Start: 41.469 / -105.676 End: 41.469 / -105.46
Wyoming isn’t typically renowned for grand, photogenic twisters. With just an average of twelve per year, most, if not all, are small, weak, short-lived, and unremarkable. It is easy to see why folks don’t recognize the state as tornado country. However, in 2018, Wyoming would experience a year unlike any before. In contrast, traditional states such as Oklahoma would experience an unusual lull in activity. Wyoming became a major hotspot, with over twenty twisters documented and three reaching EF3 intensity. But on June 6, 2018, an incredible storm drew international attention and created a spectacle for residents and storm chasers in and around Laramie and beyond.
At 4:43 pm MDT, a slow-moving low precipitation (LP) supercell produced rotation, 12 miles northwest of Laramie or 3 to 4 miles west of Wyoming State Highway 30. It fully condensed into a silver/whiteish stovepipe as it ingested water from the Laramie River. The vortex continued eastward over open pastures before crossing Highway 30. It then neared the intersection of Cattle Drive and County Road 131, where rapid intensification began. Here the funnel began to scour a substantial section of pasture grass. In addition, numerous wooden power poles were snapped, with some tossed over 50 yards. Several large steel utility poles were bent 90 degrees at their bases. It was the damage at the intersection that would warrant an EF3 rating.
Damage photos from NWS Cheyenne survey along Cattle Drive and County Road 131. (Left) Tossed powerpoles (Right) Bent steel utility poles.
Since records began, this is officially the strongest twister for Albany County, Wyoming. As it inflicted its most intense damage, a satellite tornado developed to its south. This small satellite struck the Antelope Ridge Loop Subdivision, inflicting EF2 damage where it collapsed a garage and damaged trees before lifting.
The large stovepipe continued eastward but didn’t impact any more infrastructure as it spent the remainder of its life over open country. It took on an incredible dusty cylindrical appearance before ascending King Mountain, stalling on top of the mountain, and dissipating. The tornado lasted for over 45 minutes and 11 miles, but thankfully didn’t injure or kill anyone.
The twister was the second EF3 for the state in less than a week. For the first time since 1955, Wyoming had documented two F3/EF3s in the same year. While the storm’s power was noteworthy, the incredible photogenic structure acquired its legendary reputation among the meteorological and storm chasing communities. The extraordinary LP nature, barrel mesocyclone, and high base of the supercell made it a storm chaser’s dream. As visible as it was up close, the storm could also be seen tens of miles away. Many people reported viewing the tornado from over fifty miles away.
While it is understandable that folks wouldn’t usually see a tornado as beautiful, given scenes of devastation witnessed over the previous decade, the events that transpired on that June day were unique. For a large community of residents to safely observe a slow-moving, powerful, and incredibly photogenic funnel without any significant damage or loss of life is rare, even more so for this particular region. For those in Laramie and the surrounding area who had the opportunity to see the phenomenon, it was a once in a generational event.
While the powerful funnel thankfully failed to exact its full intensity on any substantial structures, the tornado left behind an impressive example of ground scouring. Perhaps this was the most intense ever seen this far west in the United States.
A survey conducted by the National Weather Service from Cheyenne, WY, found a one-third-mile-wide swath of scouring at the intersection of Cattle Drive and County Road 131, making it one of the widest ever documented.
Here, high prairie grasses and flora accustomed to the harsh climate and altitude were pulverized and ripped away, exposing bare soil. Numerous large rocks, likely embedded in the ground, were tossed and scattered across the landscape. Nearby, sturdy wooden fence posts were sheared off at ground level. This was a feat seen in only a handful of intense tornadoes.
When Google Earth imagery of the area was released a few months later, an even more unique aspect of the path was revealed. As the tornado approached from the west towards the crossing of Cattle Drive and County Road 131, it stalled, in which several intense suction vortices manifested just northwest of the intersection.
These intense vortices produced another remarkable feat. Large quantities of gravel and granulated fence posts were wind rowed into numerous streaks, some of which measured approximately 200 feet in diameter based on Google Earth measurements. It is impressive given the surface level winds and duration needed to compensate for the thinner atmosphere at the elevation it occurred. The circulation then moved to the southeast, inflicting more scouring but decreasing in intensity and width before weakening.
Five years later, a visit to the site revealed that much evidence is still visible. The streaks of wind rowing and scattered rocks are still prevalent, a stark reminder of what transpired.
While conducting research for this summary, astounding evidence was uncovered. Officially, two tornadoes were confirmed with this event. However, analysis of videos taken from residents and storm chasers, along with photos, and an eyewitness account, it was revealed that as many as four additional funnels occurred. Two were anticyclonic tornadoes, meaning they rotated backward (or clockwise) in the Northern Hemisphere. These account for one percent of twisters documented in the United States.
Storm chaser Willoughby Owen and a separate resident on Highway 30 near the Mountain Home Subdivision observed a brief satellite north of the neighborhood. It lasted approximately fifteen seconds and only traversed open country.
Near Laramie, locals traveling north filmed a possible tornado. A brief dust column west of Highway 30 was observed with rotation above. However, due to distance from the videographer, and lower video quality, it was unable to be confirmed. A small dusty anticyclonic tornado spun up just minutes later near their location. It danced over pasture for several minutes before vanishing.
As the main funnel was around the end of its life, storm chaser Nick Nolte observed and photographed another anticyclonic vortex to its south. An exact location couldn’t be determined. However, based on a Google Maps and Street View comparison, it likely occurred near Roger Canyon and Dirty Mountain. To make things more interesting, this could have been the highest elevation anticyclonic tornado observed in North America, likely having occurred around 8000 feet above sea level. Below are three video links with timestamps to the undocumented tornadoes.
Chase Story by Willoughby Owen
Thousands of folks in the public were able to witness the wonders of Mother Nature on this June day from various distances. A handful of chasers, though, had the opportunity to experience the rare and unparalleled display of force up close! Willoughby Owen, a storm chaser from Australia, was one of the lucky few. We were able to interview Mr. Owen and are incredibly thankful to him for sharing his story from that day.
June 6 began in Goodland, KS, where he and associated chase partners would kick off their pursuit to Wyoming. After a confusing time zone adjustment that morning, the group navigated through Denver, CO, and north through Cheyenne, WY, up Interstate 25. They would end up at a rest stop near Wheatland to get some shut-eye and wait for storm initiation. After some time, they continued further north towards Glendo and west towards Esterbrook, where they caught the first supercell of the day over the mountains and were in awe of the storm. Willoughby described, “we did start to notice a supercell develop over the mountain. It was stationary and circulating like crazy. I took a good time lapse of it and there was no lightning as such at that stage.” After observing the storm for some time, they began to notice new development back to their south. The chase crew headed down Interstate 25, then southwest on Wyoming State Highway 34 towards Bosler. The chase crew then navigated through the Laramie Mountain range. Here, they would get their first glimpse of a new supercell and be presented with a unique vantage point as the elevation of the highway was higher than the base of the storm. “It’s like, wow! We’re actually above the base!”
As the chase team continued down the road, the supercell began to manifest a tightly wound mesocyclone. The rotation became highly visible as the terrain improved, entering the Laramie Basin. From 20 miles away, the chasers witnessed the beginning of the Laramie tornado as a long slender cone. They moved hastily down Highway 34, turning south on Highway 30 towards Laramie and stopping to observe the funnel and photograph it. Willoughby observed some unusual traits in conjunction with the ongoing tornado and its parent storm. “We didn’t notice any rain at all. I maybe noticed one or two drops. There’s no lightning. No thunder. It was very strange for a storm.” The tornado was more impressive, instilling a sense of total magnificence upon the chasers.
“It was just this beautiful mesocyclone. It was just wrapping up a big dirt plume in the tornado and it was strong.” The chase team continued down Highway 30 as the tornado was ongoing, with a satellite spinning up nearby. They observed the intense scouring and downed power lines on Cattle Drive, where the funnel had just crossed. After navigating past a highway patrol roadblock and locating a new observation point, they watched the tornado ascend King Mountain, become stationary, and enter an incredible rope-out stage before dissipating. The twister lasted for an hour, according to Willoughby, and 45 minutes according to NWS Cheyenne.
It was truly a remarkable chase for Willoughby Owen, ranking it up with the Campo, CO tornado event from 2010. Additional photos from his chase below.
Tornado developing. Viewed from Highway 34 (Left). Mesocyclone and fully condensed circulation (Right).
Tornado and scouring off Cattle Drive (Left). Tornado roping out over King Mountain (Right).
The day of June 6, 2018, is one I’ll never forget and cherish to the end. I was having dinner at my parents’ home that Wednesday evening. We were only just sitting down to eat when the EAS broadcast alert went off on TV. Lo and behold, it was a tornado warning for Albany County. Of course, I had to go out on the back porch to investigate. I truly wasn’t expecting to see much, with the anticipation of seeing a storm with no contrast and just a haze of darkness. But what I actually saw was far from the expectation. To my surprise, it was the most incredible storm I’ve ever seen. It looked like a giant barrel extending from the heavens to the ground. The mesocyclone was a fantastic sight I didn’t have the words to describe at the time except for a sense of pure humbleness. And then, to my surprise, the beast was 45 miles away, over the Laramie Mountains. The monster stovepipe tornado, even from that distance, was massive. Dwarfing the mountains themselves, it would be visible for over twenty minutes, casting up an enormous shroud of dirt before eventually becoming obscured by rain. It was something I never thought I could imagine, let alone comprehend witnessing. It wouldn’t be until later that I realized what I and others saw was, indeed, a once-in-a-lifetime event.
Photos taken by William Dunn of the tornado and parent supercell.
National Weather Service Cheyenne Statement
A huge thank you to Rob Cox from the NWS office in Cheyenne, WY, for his insight into the survey and his thoughts on the tornado:
“This tornado occurred mostly over a remote area with very few damage indicators. The only true damage indicators that indicated that this was a major tornado were the galvanized steel poles being bent over and ground scouring. Wish we had a few more damage indicators, but the width of this tornado was pretty impressive as well (600 yards). If this tornado would have impacted downtown Laramie, it would have caused massive destruction with damage to many structures and businesses due to its 11 mile path length. Another factor was its slow movement which would have played an even bigger role in the potential destruction if it had impacted Laramie.”
View of the tornado and mesocyclone from Highway 34 (Left). Rope funnel over King Mountain (Right).
A huge shout out to Sara Farthing from Shooting With the Wind Photography, and allowing us to use the incredible photos she took from that day.
Note: There are some images/videos in our summaries that were licensed to us to be used only on this website. If you would like to use an image/video in your project or blog, please contact us and we will grant permission if possible.
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