Storm NW of Pagosa Springs, CO - "Fakenado"?
June 6, 2017

by John Farley

Early the afternoon of June 6, a fairly strong storm developed northwest of Pagosa Springs. Since it has been a sparse storm chasing year and, for a variety of reasons, I had not been out on any recent storm observation outings, I decided to head out locally and see if I could get any decent pictures. Most of the lightning turned out to be in-cloud, and the only image I got with any lightning was this one:

Not the most photogenic lightning, but there were a couple interesting things to note in this picture. If you look just above the treeline on the left-center of the storm, the precipitation looks like snow most of the way down. Note how feathery the precipitation looks in that area, not more or less straight vertical streaks like you get with rain or hail. That suggests snow or graupel coming out of the cloud base and continuing most of the way down. Since the surface temperature was in the mid to upper 70s, I found this interesting. Farther east (to the right in the picture) the precipitation was much heavier and likely contained hail and heavy rain.

I also noticed some interesting features with the storm. I think these were precipitation features, not a funnel cloud or tornado, but I was not completely sure at the time, and indeed there were two landspouts in the Colorado high country farther north this day, so the conditions were at least somewhat favorable.

In this picture, just below and to the left of the center of the picture, you can see a dark lowered feature coming down from the updraft base. While it has the shape of a funnel and I suppose could have been, I think it is more likely that it is a precipitation feature. But I am not 100 percent sure. Now look at this picture, taken a minute or so later:

In this picture, the original feature is still present just right of center in the picture, though more blurry - perhaps more hidden by precipitation between me and it, perhaps actually becoming more diffuse since I think more likely than not it was precipitation, not a funnel. But note also near the ground, a little to the left of where the aforementioned feature extends out of the cloud base, what looks like a narrow tube to the ground. At the time I was thinking possible landspout, so I grabbed my video camera, zoomed in as close as I could, and got a minute or so of zoomed but shaky video until the feature dissipated. In the video I cannot see any rotation, so I think it was a narrow, intense precipitation shaft, perhaps a hail column or a narrow column where the snow aloft melted into rain. So I am calling it a likely "fakenado." Definitely had me wondering at the time. Given that other landspouts happened, I suppose there could have been one, but there were no reports of such and no damage reports. Combining that with the fact that my video did not show rotation, I think I just had an interesting precipitation feature.

As the storm got closer, I decided to sample the core. Sure enough there was something soft and frozen mixed in with the rain, as the temperature plunged from the 70s to 50 in a few minutes. Partially-melted snow and/or graupel, I think. I then shifted positions a little and found a decent hail core, where the mostly pea-sized hail fell pretty hard for about 5 minutes. A few stones to 1/3-inch diameter, but nothing bigger. The hail was much harder and had an entirely different sound than the partially-melted snow or graupel a few minutes earlier.

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