Witness the terrifying birth of a supercell thunderstorm

It took photographer Mike Olbinski four years to capture the formation of a colossal, spiraling supercell on video – but good grief, was it worth the wait. This footage is the very definition of spellbinding.


Writes Olbinski, who spotted the thunderstorm forming near Booker, Texas:

It took four years but I finally got it.

A rotating supercell. And not just a rotating supercell, but one with insane structure and amazing movement.

I've been visiting the Central Plains since 2010. Usually it's just for a day, or three, or two...but it took until the fourth attempt to actually find what I'd been looking for. And boy did we find it.

No, there was no tornado. But that's not really what I was after. I'm from Arizona. We don't get structure like this. [Ed. Note: Supercell storms tend to form over vast plains, like those found in Texas and Oklahoma] Clouds that rotate and look like alien spacecraft hanging over the Earth.

We chased this storm from the wrong side (north) and it took us going through hail and torrential rains to burst through on the south side. And when we did...this monster cloud was hanging over Texas and rotating like something out of Close Encounters.

The footage is truly otherwordly. The lighting, the motion, the scale of it all. It's absolutely sublime. This should go without saying, but you'll want to watch this one full screened, in high definition.

Read more about Olbinski's experience on his website. (Olbinski has a knack for catching large-scale natural phenomena on film. In 2011, he shot a jawdropping timelapse of a massive Arizona dust storm. Check it out here.)


[Mike Oblinski via vimeo]


Notice the rotating updraft on the left, and the dry-ice looking downdraft on the right. That is what makes a supercell.

In any storm warm air rises, cools when it reaches the upper atmosphere, and then falls. In this respect it is EXACTLY like a giant lava lamp.

In a regular old storm, the downdraft falls back down into the updraft, which chokes it off. It's like an engine where the exhaust is hooked up to the intake.

In a supercell, upper level winds push the column of air over, so the downdraft falls to the side. This convection engine not only does not cut off the updraft, it encourages it. the updraft can grow so intense that air cannot get into the updraft column fast enough. Add in a a little wind shear and boom, you have a tornado. It's a shame one didn't form in this case that would have been spectacular.

Now picture a tornadic supercell, funneling (literally) all this air up into the upper atmosphere. It does all fall back down again. Sometimes this downdraft can be almost as intense as the tornado.