15 spectacular supercell thunderstorms (PHOTOS)

Supercell or rotating thunderstorms sometimes seem as if they don’t belong on this planet. They can take on this other-worldly look, resembling a UFO or flying saucer. They are truly a spectacle and awe-inspiring to see in person.

I have assembled 15 examples of striking supercell storms from many of the best storm photographers in the country. (Links in the captions will lead you to more of their photos and multimedia.)

The photos follow – click to enlarge these surreal works of nature:

1. Franklin, Nebraska, 2011


June 19, 2011 – Franklin, Nebraska. By Chris Allington.

2. Ada, Oklahoma, 2011


May 21, 2011 – Ada, Oklahoma. By Basehunters.

3. Marathon, Texas, 2009


May 10, 2009 – Marathon, Texas. By Roger Hill.

4. Valentine, Nebraska, 2009


July 13, 2009 – Near Valentine, Nebraska. By Mike Hollingshead.

5. West Point, Nebraska, 2013


June 14, 2013 – West Point, Nebraska. By Jeremy Holmes.

6. Ansley, Nebraska, 2013


May 26, 2013 – Ansley, Nebraska. By Ian Livingston.

7. Watonga, Oklahoma, 2009


August 17, 2009 – Watonga, Oklahoma. By Stephen Locke.

8. LaPlata, Maryland, 2002


April 28, 2002 – Near La Plata, Maryland. By Steve Maciejewski. (Video)

9. Lamb County, Texas, 2005


May 31, 2005 – Lamb County, Texas. By Amos Magliocco.

10. Eldorado, Oklahoma, 2014.


April 20, 2014 – Eldorado, Oklahoma. By Dick McGowan.

11. Booker, Texas, 2013


June 3, 2013 – Booker, Texas. By Mike Olbinski.

12. Chappell, Nebraska, 2012


June 22, 2012 – Chappell, Nebraska. By William Reid.

13. Deer Trail, Colorado, 2013


June 10, 2010 – Deer Trail, Colorado. By Brett Roberts.

14. Piedmont, Oklahoma, 2012


May 29, 2012 – Piedmont, Oklahoma. By Chris Sanner.

15. Simms, Montana, 2012


June 4, 2012 – Simms, Montana. By Chris Streeks.

Sow how do these storms form? A brief explainer:


Basic supercell diagram. (Weather Underground)

The critical ingredient for supercell formation is turning winds with altitude, or wind shear. Let’s say winds are from the south or southeast near the ground, but gradually turn to the west and strengthen 15,000-20,0000 feet up. This turning as height increases causes the updraft – the rising plume of air sucked into the storm – to rotate.

Most of the big tornadoes that occur are from spinning supercells, but a majority of supercells do not produce tornadoes. Even when they don’t, the scene they create is as visually stunning as weather gets.

If you’re interested in learning more about supercells in layman but highly useful terms, I’d personally suggest Mike Hollingshead’s storm analysis DVD.

Related: Wow, Wyoming: Surreal supercell thunderstorm time lapse | High Plains magic: Two unimaginably stunning days of supercell thunderstorms (PHOTOS)
| The Climax of must-see time lapse thunderstorm videos | “A beast”: Shocking, enlightening supercell thunderstorm photos from Nebraska

Ian Livingston is a forecaster/photographer and information lead for the Capital Weather Gang. By day, Ian is a defense and national security researcher at a D.C. think tank.
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Ian Livingston · June 9