A rare tornado in a season with few

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Landspout tornado at 11,900 ft. (credit: Sheila Gavin)

This summer’s weather has been all about one thing, DROUGHT. You may be sick of hearing meteorologists talk about it. In fact, most meteorologists wish it would go away too. But it is the subject of our weather story in Wisconsin and for most of the country. But the phenomena that is shriveling farmers’ crops has been a killer of the usual topic of summer weather, tornadoes.

With fewer thunderstorms come fewer tornadoes. In fact the total number of twisters nationwide for July will likely be in the 24-27 range. The record for lowest number of tornadoes in July is 42 set in July 1960. In Wisconsin our drought has been a tornado defender as well. I don’t want to say exactly how many tornadoes we’ve had in 2012 since the last time I mentioned it in a blog, a tornado sprung up the next day near Wausau. But I’ll give you a hint… it’s more than 1 but less than 3.  This does not include the waterspout seen over Lake Michigan on July 27th.

The astoundingly low number of tornadoes makes the one photographed in Colorado on July 28th even more peculiar. Shortly before 3pm that day a small tornado arched out of the clouds and grazed Mount Evans. Using the pictures of the tornado, National Weather Service meteorologists were able to determine the tornado touched down at 11,900 ft! This is the second highest twister in U.S. history (first place goes to a tornado in California’s Sequoia National Park at 12,000 ft. in July 2004). Tornadoes this high up are rare for a few reasons and the rocky terrain isn’t one of them. At high elevations the air is usually much more stable. You don’t find a hot and humid airmass trapped under a cool dry airmass with a thin “cap” in between. So it’s no surprise this tornado was not attached to a massive supercell thunderstorm. Instead this “landspout” tornado was attached to a cloud with a much weaker updraft. In fact the tornado did not cause any damage and was generously given an EF-0 rating.