Cortez, CO Funnel Cloud and Other Interesting Weather
May 19, 2015

by John Farley

On this day, I was not out actively looking for interesting weather. But it turned out I did not have to be. The weather pattern over southwest Colorado had, for some time, been unusually stormy and active for May, which is usually a rather dry, dusty season on the west slopes of the Rockies in Colorado and New Mexico. But not this year! During the preceding ten days, there had been active weather nearly every day, including at least three days with thundersnow in the mountains and a severe-warned thunderstorm that produced copious hail near Navajo Lake. On this day, though, rather than looking for active weather, Alice and I were heading west on U.S. 160 from Pagosa Springs on the first day of a trip to Nevada and California for a wedding. But interesting weather was quick to appear, as an intense convective squall formed over the mountains north of Durango. At the altitude where this precipitation was falling, it almost certainly was snow or graupel (snow pellets). And given the intensity of the squall, I would say it was a good bet there was some thundersnow in there, although we were too far away to tell. Here is a picture:

As you can see, it even had a wall-cloud type of feature under the updraft - although some of this appearance may have been created by upslope effects. Still, a pretty photogenic convective snow squall!

But that was not all. As we continued west into lower altitudes around Mancos a little before 3 p.m., I noticed something interesting on a thunderstorm that had sprung up to the WNW of there. I said to Alice, "If I didn't know better, I would say that is a funnel cloud." After looking at it a little more, I realized that it WAS a funnel cloud:

I stopped in Mancos to get a couple pictures (that's where the one above was taken), then continued on, with the road taking us on a route that would bring us very close to the location of the funnel. As we continued, it extended a little lower, though the condensation never was more than about a quarter of the way to the ground. Here is another picture, from a little farther west than the first one:

At this point, I was wondering if perhaps I should call it in, though it turns out local spotters already had, and a tornado warning had been issued for it at 2:52 p.m. I opted not to, largely because I did not think it was down far enough to represent an immediate threat. Instead, I decided to just watch it for a while. The location of the funnel was somewhere northwest of the Mesa Verde National Park entrance on the south side of U.S. 160, and somewhere northeast of the town of Cortez. After a few more minutes the funnel began to dissipate, and it was completely gone by the time we reached Cortez. I would say that it was visible for about 10 to possibly 15 minutes, though it may have been there for a little while before I noticed it. There was no tornado, and only one report of minor wind damage in Cortez, when a 16-foot stretch of cedar fencing (with reportedly rotten posts) was blown over by winds estimated at 40 mph. But still a very interesting and rather unusual event for southwestern Colorado, especially when I wasn't even out looking for interesting weather.

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