This photo of a tornado north of Laramie by University of Wyoming employee Lauren Jaeger was picked up by news publications ranging from the Casper Star-Tribune to CNN. In downtown Laramie the tornado converted shoppers and diners into momentary amateur storm chasers and at one point led to a chorus of cell phone alerts. (Lauren Jaeger)

A tornado that twisted within nine miles of town put on a show for those out and about in downtown Laramie on Wednesday evening. Thanks to this photo, and many others, the storm reached national audiences as well.

University of Wyoming employee Lauren Jaeger and her brother were planning to enjoy the June evening with some yard games when Jaeger saw a fierce looking cloud looming and decided dinner downtown would be better. The storm cell assumed ever-more-threatening shapes as they headed downtown, Jaeger said, until eventually they spotted a funnel reaching down to the ground.

“Is that a tornado or just like a weird shape?” Jaeger said her brother asked.

It was a tornado — one that touched down for approximately 30 minutes, according to the Albany County Sheriff’s Office’s Facebook page, though other sources estimated it was closer to one hour. An update this morning said the funnel caused “considerable damage to homes and property,” though it stayed in rural areas north of Laramie.

Jaeger walked up to a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Union Pacific railroad tracks and connects downtown Laramie with the neighborhood of West Laramie. From there, she took her photo while the restaurants emptied and customers took to the streets with their cell phones below her, she said.

At one point, all those cell phones began pinging simultaneously as an emergency alert went out to the area.

“You could hear them echoing down the street,” Jaeger said.

 “Then you kind of saw the panic,” she said. One man ran out of a local business into the crowd of onlookers and shouted out his own “tornado!” alert, she said. Some people kept taking video and photos of the storm, she said, while others headed to their vehicles, homes and shelter.

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Jaeger’s photo, which she posted on Instagram and which Wyoming Public Radio reporter Maggie Mullen posted to her own Twitter account, was among the many quickly snapped up by news organizations. The Casper Star-Tribune republished it, as did The Weather Channel and CNN, Jaeger said.

The Washington Post crowdsourced photos and some awe-inspiring videos of the funnel, labeling it the “Tornado of the Year.” They did not use Jaeger’s photo.

All the attention has WyoFile wondering if this is the biggest whirlwind to hit Wyoming since Kanye West partied in Jackson.

Here’s a video of the storm, taken in front of Coal Creek Tap in downtown Laramie and provided to WyoFile by Laramie resident Monika Leininger:

Tornado by Monika Leininger from WyoFile on Vimeo.

Andrew Graham

Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at andrew@wyofile.com, follow him @AndrewGraham88

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