Goodland Kansas by Mitch Dobrowner for MBS Photograph: Mitch Dobrowner
It was early evening, maybe six o’clock, when we stopped the van. The storms usually fire up at this time, when the sun has had all day to warm the earth.
Then the cumulonimbus towers burst up through the atmosphere and all hell breaks loose.In chasing terms, it had been an easy day – we’d covered maybe 400 miles to get on to this line of storms in the far west of Kansas.
We knew there was little chance of tornadoes, but our guide, my friend Roger Hill – a stormchasing veteran of at least 30 years – thought there was a good chance of some big hail and maybe even some landspout activity [where a tornado forms from the ground up].
We stopped downwind and waited for the developing storm to advance. As I set up, the storm turned into a monster: an almost-solid curtain of rain in the background. Then in the foreground, an unusually large landspout whipped up.
The scene was surreal, almost abstract – low-contrast, back-lit, the storm creeping towards us.
But all the while there were really strong outflow winds reminding you it was all too real … and just a wall of precipitation edging toward us. And this was huge for a landspout.
Just for scale, if you look carefully to the right of the spout, you can just make out an electricity tower. Landspouts are usually less powerful than regular tornadoes – this was such a rare occurrence that Roger had to confirm with the National Weather Service that it was just a landspout,
But you can see it has the classic cylinder shape, rather than a tornado’s typical cone or wedge.In eight years of chasing, I’ve never seen another storm like this one.