Northeast New Mexico and Southeast Colorado Supercells and Tornadoes

May 30 , 2005


This day began in Clayton, New Mexico. Moisture was again forecast to flow from the southeast toward the high terrain of northeastern New Mexico and southeastern Colorado, with moderately strong southwesterly upper level flow overhead.

I chased solo on this day. However, I ran across Al Moller, Carson Eads, Bobby Eddins, Ed Eddins, Michael Cohen, Al Pierre and other chasers during the day.

Click on any image to see a larger version.

 

When I left Clayton around 8 AM, it was foggy. The fog had a sharp western edge, that was located east of Capulin Mountain. Here is a view looking back to the east from a location east of Capulin.
I left early with the intent of driving up onto the Johnson Mesa, a high picturesque plateau located east of Raton. This region experiences about as many thunderstorms per year as Florida! However, the locals tell me that it is a rough place in the winter. Not many people live on the mesa, although ranches cover most of its level ground. The photo to the left was shot looking north and shows two storage buildings and a nearby field of yellow flowers.
 
Photo of an old wooden windmill, and a lone tree benefiting from the water drawn up by the windmill. This windmill is near Capulin Mountain.
If you use volcanic sand in your garden, or soap with volcanic sand in the soap, there is a good chance that it originated from this deposit, which is located on the north side of Capulin volcano.
A view located a few miles west of Folsom, New Mexico, looking west at the higher terrain of the Johnson Mesa.

 

 

During much of the morning, a thick band of cumulus moved over the area, keeping the area in shadow, and cool. The elevation of the Johnson Mesa is around 6,000 feet above sea level. This photo was shot looking generally toward the north.
Looking east at Capulin volcano from a vantage point on top of Johnson Mesa. This photo was shot using a 300 mm telephoto.
While enjoying the cool breeze, and views from on top of Johnson Mesa, I was also monitoring radar via Mobile ThreatNet. Storms were forming near Springer, and west of Raton. I drove into Raton, stopped to pick up some fast food, and then drove north to Trinidad, and then east on highway 160. This photo was shot looking west at a storm that was located near Trinidad Colorado. The storm had supercellular characteristics, but appeared to be moisture starved.
As the storm moved off of the higher terrain, the precipitation area thinned.
A short time later, another storm, which had formed near Raton, New Mexico, moved across the western end of the Johnson Mesa, and into Colorado. The Doppler On Wheels (DOW) armada was monitoring this storm. The DOWs detected a mesocyclone.
The storm was located west of Branson, Colorado, and was moving very close to the town of Trinchera, Colorado. DOW radar indicated that the mesocyclone was increasing in intensity, and might produce a tornado. When this photo was shot, the DOWs were measuring 35 knots of rotation at the surface with the developing circulation. Although not tornadic strength, there was concern that damage might occur in Trinchera. The DOW crew reported the situation to the National Weather Service, who issued a tornado warning within minutes.
As the circulation grew stronger, a rotating funnel lowered from the base of the storm. Precipitation curtains were seen rotating around the western side of the mesocyclone. Also note the RFD intrusion to the left of the lowering.
The mesocyclone became rain wrapped, producing a long segmented rope funnel that would condense, then briefly dissipate, only to reform a second or two later. The circulation had moved to open ranch land on the northern edge of town, as it reached maximum strength. The funnel never extended to the ground, but rotating rain curtains were visible beneath and obviously associated with the funnel.
The precipitation core slowly moved away from the mesocyclone. Another short funnel developed briefly underneath the mesocyclone as it slowly decayed.
Eventually, the rotating updraft was left behind by the storm.

Tornadic storms also occurred near Tucumcari. We considered making the long drive south to intercept these storms, and actually drove south from highway 160, south through Branson, Colorado, to Folsom, New Mexico and to the highway back to Clayton. Another storm had developed west of Capulin, but it did not look very strong on radar. However, it produced a photogenic tornado that lasted about 10 minutes, and was highly visible up to a distance of probably 30 miles. I saw the tornado, and did shoot video from a distance, but it was partially obscured by hills. Chuck Doswell and others shot video and stills of the entire life cycle of this tornado. This photo shows the storm about an hour after the tornado, as it moved north into Colorado. The storm persisted at least through midnight as it slowly moved eastward toward Boise City, Oklahoma.

I didn't get any photographs of the tornado, but may post video freeze frames, if time permits.


Copyright 2005 - Samuel D. Barricklow - All rights reserved.


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Last revised: January 11, 2007