Texas photographer Mike Olbinski chases storms for a living. Luckily for him, this particular summer season has offered up some extraordinary weather in western Texas.
Hunting for supercells in New Mexico, Olbinski and a friend were calling it a bust day, driving back to Lubbock, when they caught sight of a wall cloud off in the distance. They had to jump on it.
“We decided to of course go after it and when we got in front of it, we were thrilled to just be on a good storm finally that day,” Olbinski told The Epoch Times. They positioned themselves south of Andrews, got out their gear (Olbinski using an extreme wide-angle lens, as the storm would soon literally be on top of them), and witnessed powerful updrafts as the weather evolved before their eyes.
Updrafts—warm, ascending air currents within storm clouds—cause evaporated moisture to rise to cooler altitudes, where it then matures into heavier rain and hail, before plunging down to the earth amid colder airflows.
Under the right conditions, warm air currents surrounding the cell can help this process, causing the whole thunderstorm—sometimes miles wide—to collapse in an instant in a massive downward rush of wind, rain, and hail, producing what’s known as a “microburst.”
Distinct from tornadoes, microbursts can be just as destructive with winds sometimes reaching 150 miles per hour. The wind, rain, and hail hit the ground with such force, it has nowhere to go except outwards and can cause devastation in all directions, toppling trees and structures.
The supercell on this particular day was about to go microburst ballistic—a “microburst machine,” as Olbinski called it. They witnessed a single, massive column of torrential downpour, at first, with the magnificent colors of a Texas sunset adding to the spectacle. He snapped photos of the glowing tempest, later describing it as a “tunnel of fire” on his Instagram page.
“Look at the microburst occurring,” he was recorded saying in a video from the scene, posted on YouTube. “Unbelievable beautiful storm. Wow!”
But the storm had more in store; in front and to the right of the first column, a second microburst plummeted down from the cloud ceiling. They were awestruck.
“Dude, I think there’s a new hail dump right here in front of us!” Olbinski exclaimed. “I’m freakin’ loosing my mind right now, look at the double hail cores coming down. Monstrous!”
It wasn’t over yet. What unfolded next would leave Olbinski feeling “euphoric.” From the sky fell two more pillars of wind and hail, producing a “quadruple microburst,” as he later termed it, adding the adjectives “unreal” and “magical.”
“We were standing there in utter shock that we were witnessing one of the best storms we’d ever seen on a day when we thought things looked hopeless,” he later told The Epoch Times. “That’s why we chase!”