The highly-viewed landspout tornado that formed near Frederick and dissipated near Platteville on Monday evening was caused by rotating air at the surface, not from a rotating thunderstorm, which officially means that this was a landspout tornado. But what does that even mean?
What many people thought was a full-fledged tornado (and I mean, come on, look at that thing!), was in fact a landspout tornado. The threats with landspout tornadoes are mostly the same as a regular tornado — one being strong damaging winds. The difference between the two comes in how they form not how they look or how much damage they can produce.
The typical tornado that you think of when someone says “tornado” is a huge spiraling column of air that is usually connecting the Earth to an ominous cloud. Landspout tornadoes and tornadoes both fit this description but tornadoes form from rotating supercell thunderstorms while landspout tornadoes form from a ground circulation getting sucked up into a storm.
Supercell thunderstorms get so tall they reach into different levels of the atmosphere where the winds can have varying speeds. Most of the time, the winds are flowing in the same general direction but every once in a while, the winds can change direction as they get higher. When thunderstorms are forming and clouds are building during severe weather, the winds throughout the atmosphere begin to rotate the clouds and thus you have a rotating thunderstorm. Eventually, that rotation will get so intense that the entire column of air will start to move toward the ground. Once that column of air connects with the ground, it is officially a tornado.
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With a landspout tornado, you don’t have a rotating thunderstorm. Instead, you have air at the surface that is spinning (these spinning winds can be caused by random eddies or colliding boundaries) and that spinning air gets sucked up into a developing thunderstorm. Landspout tornadoes are short-lived and generally weak but can still hold winds of up to 100 mph. Landspouts are the land equivalent of a waterspout which typically is just a condensation funnel.
This dramatic show of a beautiful landspout tornado was captured by many along the I-25 corridor. There was low precipitation around the landspout tornado near Platteville on Monday and due to the ruralness of the location and lack of trees, this could be seen from dozens of miles away. Cory Reppenhagen, a meteorologist at 9NEWS, said that this landspout was more than 10,000 feet high, which meant everyone within a 70-mile radius saw it.
As mentioned, landspout tornadoes can cause damage and the one on Monday damaged nearby buildings and power poles. The NWS in Boulder is sending out an assessment team to the area to determine the strength and length of the path this landspout took. Colorado is no stranger to landspouts. Nor is Weld County, where this spout occurred. Weld County holds the title for seeing the most tornadoes on a state and national level. Thanks to the conditions surrounding most landspouts, storm chasers love to capture this intense display of weather because most of the time, they are very, very photogenic.
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