The Storms of 26 May, 1997 Eastern Oklahoma

All images and text © copyright Gene Moore
unless otherwise indicated

We started the day from a small town east of Wichita, KS. My chase partner for this day was meteorologist Mike Watts from Memphis, TN. Our original target area was southeast KS and our secondary area was Henryetta, OK. The surface winds were weak across the entire region this day, improving in our secondary target by noon. Consequently, we dropped south to Oklahoma City and headed east on I-40. The storms were beginning to fire-up across the northeast through eastern horizon. We focused our position just north of Henryetta which appeared to be a good bet, until we heard the tornado reports from the Tulsa area -- which was enough to make any chaser squirm. We stayed on a storm that formed in Okfuskee Co. This storm, and another north of it, provided enough rotation for one day. The storms moved through the low rolling hills and trees of eastern Oklahoma, which are seen as obstructions to storm photography by chasers. We dropped south late in the day to a cluster of cells forming over Okmulgee, OK where we saw the distant Wainwright tornado in progress. These images account for a large portion of the tornadoes seen, but do not include video captures of the first Preston tornado. Images are by Gene Moore and Mike Watts, all photography copyrighted.
SW flank - Mike watching storm

Gene's wide shot - inflow from east 2 rotating wall clouds

These images show the panorama of the developing storms to our north. The image on the left was the scene looking north through northeast. The right image is the scene to the north and northwest. Both storm began to show supercell characteristics early in their development. During this time the surface winds were very light and we were on a hill, unusual for conditions during developing tornadic supercells. The winds at the convective cloud base of the cumulus appeared to be about 35 MPH.

convection over mesocyclone

This left image shows vertical storm development over the circulation to our north. The rotation was far enough west of the road that we couldn't see it spinning up to produce the tornado until just before the funnel formed. This area of eastern Oklahoma does not have the roads needed to close in on a storm.

Shortly after this picture was taken we proceeded north from Okfuskee to near Nuyaka, OK. The funnel was lowering as we drove north and we to shoot on the run. It produced the tornado near Beggs Oklahoma. The other supercell that we had been watching was moving east and started to produce tornadic rotation at cloud base. We decided to play this cell first then would rush east to the other storm.

developing tornado - shooting on the move tornado Gene's series of Beggs tornado

In the series of the developing Beggs tornado storm chaser Jim Leonard can account for a debris cloud from this tornado (which is blocked from our view by the ridge line in the foreground). Narrow filaments of condensation are visible in some of the images, but the debris cloud did not become visible until late in the life of the tornado.

tornado northwest cone funnel shaped tornado  

The tornado continues to extend a condensation funnel to the ground. We are now gaining position on the funnel, but hills continue to block part of the view. As we near Hwy 16 to Beggs, we get a big surprise. A funnel rapidly forms just ahead of us on the right.

  funnel/ brief tornado behind house funnel lifted - 1/4 mile east

The funnel is front lit white and extends rapidly to the ground behind a row of trees to our northeast. Peering through the trees I can see white condensation below the tree tops and on the ground. We fire off shots, trying to get in position. Our surprise funnel lifts quickly. By the time we get to a field directly west of its position, the funnel is about a hundred meters above the trees. Short lived, but an unexpected thrill as we get a dose of nearby rotation. We catch our breath and continue up the road to the other tornado, still in progress.

tornado northwest Gene's shot of Beggs w/debris Gene's junky tornado shot

The Beggs tornado, as it is called by most chasers, is now producing a debris cloud we can photograph. It dissipates to the north of Hwy 16 before crossing Hwy 75 about 5 minutes after these images were taken. To our southeast, the second mesocyclone we were close to, is producing an intermittent tornado in wooded country. Our next photography position is to the north of this tornado as it crossed Hwy 75. It was not a good position and we should have been done it differently; but, our thinking was the tornado would cross the highway in front of us. Instead, it crossed Hwy 75 to our southeast where hills and trees briefly obscured our view.

The second Preston tornado got much larger as it crossed the highway and the first circulation dissipated. This is one of my favorite shots of the year. With the setting sun to our back; I took video while Mike grabbed this stunning image of the second Preston tornado and rainbow.

Meanwhile Jim Leonard and Chuck Robertson are east near the base of the funnel traveling along Hwy 16. The tornado is just to the south of the road and somewhat in the rain. From this point we fear more rain wrapping around the tornado so we drop south and east for a better photography position and to get out of the trees.

Mikes rainbow/tornado shot

  Gene's Preston tornado north Gene's tilting preston tornado

I overshot the first turn to go east and wound up further south than intended. We still got a clear shot of the tornado from a small hill that opened up to fields to our north. The tornado dry wraps giving us the view we wanted. Chase crews on Hwy 16 at this time confirmed the tornado was on the ground. The contrast is not what we wanted, but compared to being wrapped in the rain this is much more photogenic

  Preston tornado in setting sun

A closing wide angle shot of the Preston tornado include blue sky and building towers. The setting sun lights up the scene white and yellow. After the Preston tornado dissipated we moved south to intercept a couple of cells moving up from the Okmulgee area. We traveled east on a highway north of 62 and watched the Wainwright tornado hang out the southwest side of the cell to our east-northeast. The scene was much like the sunlit tornado in the above frame, but more distant and in the twilight. As it began to get dark, a mesocyclone spun up a funnel just to our southeast near Council Hill. A tornado warning was promptly posted on the cell. We watched the funnel get close to the ground as a curtain of rain circled the vortex. We never saw it on the ground. As it got dark, another cell with a severe warning on it was coming up behind us. We made a hasty retreat to the west. After nightfall the tornadic storm north of McAlester provided a spectacular lightning display.

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