Upslope flow 4: The Mothership Returns to Roswell

07 June 2014

The season so far has been a fairly tough one. Lots of long journeys for marginal setups and some reasonable, but rarely fantastic, storms to show for our extensive efforts. Today was going to be different, we were sure of it. Specifically we were going to see a tornado. In fact we’d concluded that this blog post, were we not to see a tornado, was simply going to read: “We decided that if we didn’t see a tornado today this is all we would write.”

The setup was the 4th in a row of upslope flow into the high plains. Each day this setup was shifting a little further south but somehow each day benefiting from a new upper impulse to assist convection and sheer. The sheer profiles looked excellent, again, moisture levels looked well in excess of those needed for convective storms, so really it was going to be a question of choosing a starting location. Initiation was due over the mountains to the west and then forecast to track south east across New Mexico and into the Texas Panhandle. We were keen to catch the early phases of the storms today, and if that meant heading to the mountains then backtracking with the storms, that would be fine, but were sure as damnit not going to miss any early tornadoes!

We headed west from Dulhart, Texas and down to the Interstate 40 before carrying on to Fort Sumner in New Mexico. We passed tons of chasers around Tucumcari but we weren’t deterred, we wanted to be on these storms early. As we worked our way further west a storm fired up in front of us, briefly distracting us with its potential, but a storm even further west was looking better, indeed it became tornado warned. Although a little frustrating as we were trying to position as aggressively as possible and were still short of the mark, we weren’t deterred, and drove on west.

As we approached the storm, from the northeast, it appeared to have some decent lowerings and looked very capable of producing a tornado. There were only a couple of people really close to it and a tornado was reported, probably from this lowering (according to the timings), but this definitely didn’t feel like a tornado siting!

Distant -cloud -lowering

By the time we got near a second storm had fired behind the first. They appeared to be vying for dominance, then possibly merging, however over the course of just a few minutes they became very much distinct again and both appeared healthy. Thanks to them being quite slow moving we had time to get to a road in front of them and await them getting nearer. On reaching a point where we could see the underside a little better we could see some really awesome structure. The updraft was rotating incredibly fast and in full view as the storms had remained very discrete in the area and were effectively surrounded by blue skies. The combination of strong rotation and the shapes it yields all within this otherwise tranquil setting make for some of the best views of storm structure you’ll ever see.

Roswell Mothership Supercell

Another Mothership

Tim And Mothership

I managed to get a fair amount of timelapse footage but unfortunately my choice of 2 seconds between exposures was simply too long for the rate of rotation and the timelapses look a little crazy. The good thing about setting up a timelapse, though, is that you can leave the camera to get on with it while you take in the situation. It was some of the best structure I’ve ever seen. Losing yourself, entranced and in awe, of this spectacular sight is a great state to be in.

Left Side Mothership

The front storm had been tornado warned for some time now and as it reached us on the road we were keen to keep fairly close to it to see if we could make anything out within the lower visibility parts of the storm where rain was hiding the deeper workings of it. However at that moment we noticed around half a mile away, a plume of dust kicking up off the ground, underneath what appeared to be a funnel. We snapped a couple of shots before moving a couple of hundred meters on down the road to try and track with it.

Weather Photo Tornado Candidate 1

Stopping again we got some more pictures. There appeared to be some kind of interaction between two updrafts (don’t quote me on this, it’s very much my interpretation) which was forcing air down really hard into the ground. The result was a crazy set of features including dust swirls on the ground beneath turbulent and rotating cloud above. I have become a total tornado sceptic and unless I can see a clear funnel from the cloud to the ground I’m very hard to convince, but some far more experienced storm chasers than us have called this as a tornado, so who are we to argue? It was, therefore, a really decent up-close-and-personal tornado encounter, and that topped off what was now looking like our best chase of the year.


As the storm moved away from the road we headed south then east to get in front of it again. Our penultimate treat for the day would be the storm entering a low precipitation mode and framing the sunset. It was only a scene this beautiful that could distract from the epic quantities of blood we were now donating to the local insect population.

Weather Photo Sunset and storm

After sunset we headed into Roswell and found a bargain motel. As we parked up we saw our storm, somewhat re-energised (the temperatures were still around 82F even at 9.30pm) and starting to exhibit some decent lightning and structure.


It looked good enough to warrant heading back out to take some shots, however the lightning was not prolific enough to balance out the incredible number of biting insects, and as spare blood started to run out we headed back to the motel to go over our pictures and gibber about this amazing day until the early hours.

Key points:


SPC Day 1 Weather Outlook as at 06:00UTC (01:00 Central Time the night before)

SPC 01:00UTC day 1 forecast for Sat June 2014

SPC Day 1 Weather Reports for the day.

SPC storm reports for Sat June 2014

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