Several photogenic tornadoes spun across eastern Colorado on Tuesday amid a bout of severe weather that may have also dropped record-setting hailstones.

A series of nasty supercell thunderstorms developed soon after lunchtime, with cloud tops extending to 50,000 feet. At 2:11 p.m., the first tornado was reported north of Cope, Colo., about 120 miles east of Denver.

The video above appears to show that tornado.

There’s a little precipitation obscuring the tornado from view since the video was taken to the south of its circulation. You’ll notice how remarkably clear it is just to the left of the tornado, too. That wedge of blue sky may indicate where a “clear slot” is wrapping in, tightening the circulation.

Tornadoes are terrifyingly powerful yet surprisingly delicate phenomena, and they require the right amount of air flowing into them as well as the tightening effects of cool, dry air to consolidate their spin. If the latter wins out — as was the case after this video was taken — the tornado can wither.

This tornado was a gorgeous elephant trunk tornado. Ordinarily tornadoes viewed from behind the storm don’t show up in such striking contrast; scattered sunlight can wash out some of their structure. But in this case, the sun was blocked by another area of rotation to the south. Did that one produce a tornado? You bet.

Meteorologist Quincy Vagell captured the twin tornadoes near Joes, Colo. This photo was taken around the same time as the video. (The tornado depicted in the video is the one on the right.) Vagell tweeted that the tornadoes were on the ground simultaneously for about a minute.

Meanwhile, the storms dropped hail at least five inches in diameter about 30 miles southeast in Bethune. Social media photos show the spiked hailstone easily exceeded the previous Colorado state record of 4.5 inches in diameter, though this will have to be verified by the state climatologist.

June is typically regarded as Colorado’s severe storm season, but about 40 percent of Colorado’s reports of hail three inches in diameter or greater have historically occurred later in the year. A radar volume rendering at the time the stone fell shows an enormous magenta core within the storm — indicating absolutely enormous hail.


A radar volume rendering at the time giant (five-inch) hail was falling near Bethune, Colo., on Aug. 13. (GR2 Analyst/Matthew Cappucci)

A climatology of three-inch-plus hail events in Colorado, where records date back to 1950. Of note is the unusual dropoff in reported large hail instances in July. (NCEI/Matthew Cappucci)

It’s been a wacky week for severe weather on the Plains. In many senses, the pattern has been more reminiscent of a typical June than mid-August. On Sunday night, storm chaser Jim Tang captured a remarkable supercell thunderstorm whirling above rural fields near McDonald, Kan.

More severe thunderstorms are predicted for the Plains, including eastern Colorado, through the end of the week.