Chris Russell and Kenny Bell were driving home to Gillette from their shifts at Strata Energy in Oshoto when they saw the swirling clouds east of Rozet on Tuesday evening.
“We stopped and got out and then just watched it form from about a quarter mile away,” said Russell. “The wind was pretty calm where we were standing, but then it just came down all the way to the ground.”
Russell said he and his stepbrother had a clear view as they watched the tornado form, make contact with the ground, then retreat back into the air. When it seemed the twister wasn’t moving toward them, they decided to start recording it on their smartphones.
Then Russell snapped a selfie with himself, Bell and the tornado that he posted on social media, which was quickly shared around the state and national weather watching groups.
“You could definitely see grass being lifted up out of the ground,” he said, adding the weather was calm and clear where they’d stopped. “We ran into a hailstorm about 10 minutes before, but then the weather cleared and the skies were blue.
“The initial funnel was pretty thick, then it narrowed to nothing. The clouds were all spiraling, then as soon as it touched, it grew thicker and thicker. It was on the ground for about 10-12 minutes.”
Meteorologist Alex Calderon at the National Weather Service office in Rapid City said his office received several photos and videos of the tornado, which touched down about a mile from Interstate 90.
Calderon said the twister was spotted near Rozet and videos showed it heading east toward Moorcroft.
Calderon said he’s not exactly sure how long the tornado stayed on the ground, but it was moving across large fields and grassy terrain for at least 10 minutes.
This isn’t the first tornado in the region the National Weather Service has been alerted to this year. Calderon said a tornado was spotted in Crook County last month.
Calderon said they received no reports of damage and because of that, weather officials are unsure of how fast the tornado was traveling. Russell said they saw it get about 500 feet from a farmhouse, but otherwise not threaten any structures, people or animals.
Along with a memorable experience that includes his video and selfie, Russell said he’s “truly very shocked” his photo has been shared thousands of times by Wednesday morning.
“I did not expect it to blow up like it did, but then Wyoming Through the Lens, a statewide thing, put it up,” he said. “I’m usually pretty quiet on social media. Now my phone’s blowing up.”
The chance for thunderstorms decreases Thursday and Friday, according to the National Weather Service. Temperatures will be in the 80s with only about a 10% chance of rain.