As It Happens

Storm chaser captures incredible images of 'quadruple microburst'

Storm chaser Mike Olbinski thought Tuesday was going to be a bust — until he spotted the most “mind-blowing” weather phenomenon he’s ever seen up close.

Mike Olbinski says he's never seen anything like the 4 powerful columns of wind and hail

Storm chaser Mike Olbinski spotted this 'quadruple microburst' — four massive columns of downward wind and precipitation — south of Andrews, Texas, on Tuesday. (Submitted by Mike Olbinski)

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Storm chaser Mike Olbinski thought Tuesday was going to be a bust — until he spotted the most "mind-blowing" weather phenomenon he's ever seen up close.

Olbinski and his partner, Brett Wright, had spent most of the day in west Texas and eastern New Mexico with a tour group chasing several storms scattered throughout the region, but they weren't having much luck.

They were about to pack it up and head back to the hotel when, suddenly, they were faced with a stunning view, the likes of which Olbinski had never seen — four massive dark blue columns of wind and hail, offset by a stunning pink and purple sunset just south of Andrews, Texas.

"It's mind-blowing. It was just so much power," the Phoenix, Ariz., storm chaser told As It Happens host Carol Off. "The lenses and the pictures don't show you how close you are actually to the storm. It was just right in front of us."

Olbinski called the phenomenon a "quadruple microburst."

What is a microburst?

Microbursts are "strong and sudden downbursts of wind and rain in a thunderstorm cell," according to CBC meteorologist Johanna Wagstaffe.

"You've all this hot air rising rapidly in a storm cloud, so air also has to sink rapidly to balance it out," she said. 

While it's not uncommon to see several microbursts hit back to back, Wagstaffe says she's never seen four at once in the same storm complex.

"And for it also to be backlit by the setting sun, well, that's a once-in-a lifetime shot even for a storm chaser," she said. 

Olbinski says the stars aligned that day to give him the perfect shot of the four massive wind columns. 

"The timing with the sunset colours, the light. I mean, it was pink and orange on either side, and it was just amazing," he said. 

"We're standing there going, 'No one's going to believe the photos that we post because they're going to think we Photoshopped this.'"

The dreamy colours of the sunset imbue the photos with an almost serene quality. And it felt serene in the moment too, Olbinski said.

"When you're looking at them, there's almost like this peace and calm because the wind is calm where you are, even though there's this wall of dust coming and it looks, you know, magical and impending," he said.

But don't be fooled. There's nothing peaceful about microbursts. They're usually about four kilometres in diameter, according to the U.S. National Weather Service. And when they come crashing down to the ground, they can disperse winds as high as 120 kilometres per hour in all directions, says Wagstaffe.

On Twitter, Wright called them the "Four Pillars of Pain."

Olbinski says the microbursts started coming down right in front of them shortly after they snapped the pictures and video footage on Tuesday.

"So we just had to, like, scurry to the truck and get out of there," he said. "And we almost got stuck."


Written by Sheena Goodyear. Interview with Mike Olbinski produced by Niza Lyapa Nondo.

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