Eastern OK Supercell and Killer Tornado
Ft. Gibson, Lake - 1 June 1999

The weather pattern for this first day of June included a stalled cool front across northeastern Oklahoma and western Missouri. Temperatures were in the 90's with high humidity in advance of the front. Jet stream flow over the region could be described as "moderate" for a mid spring day. A specific focus for severe weather was not apparent on the computer model runs from the morning so hand analysis was done with southeast OK to northern Missouri the main area of interest. My initial target area was Pryor, Oklahoma east of Tulsa. All of the region along the front is considered challenging chase terrain at best. Some areas are almost impossible to work with for decent photography due to steep hills and tall trees to be accessed only by winding roads. We stalled for time under a dense shade tree while the cumulus slowly tried to penetrate a strong temperature inversion over the region. Finally storms broke through during the late afternoon hours. The first activity quickly stacked up into a north - south line. These storms were heavy rain producers and showed no supercell tendencies for the first hour. Occasional lightning accompanied the rain and only very small hail fell.

All images and text © copyright Gene Moore unless otherwise indicated.

developing mesocyclone funnel - debris cloud # 69 south

My chase partner for the day was Nick who works with Pioneer Productions from the UK. I navigated as he drove south through the heavy rain cores that were increasing in number and size. Near the town of Pryor the activity seemed to slow it's southward march. New storms developed to the southwest and merged in this area, but the south end of the line appeared to have a favorite spot. The storm overhead intensified and occasional 1/2 hail stones accompanied the rain. To our west an updraft base had been persistent for the last 15 minutes. Strong development was occurring in this area and it looked like the first promising region of the storm complex. The lowering pictured above formed to our NW and moved slowly southeast. Striated rain accompanied the updraft and indications of a circulation begin to materialize.

The circulation developed into a broad wall cloud with a inflow tail cloud extending to the east. We followed this feature south on #69 then east on route #412 where the storm intensified dramatically. A strong outflow feature hit the back of the circulation we were watching and pushed it further to the south. Usually an event such as this will break up an circulation, but in this case it strengthened the mesocyclone. Curtains of rain obscured the wall cloud so we returned to #69 and proceeded south again. A second circulation developed on a flanking line of cumulus and produced a small funnel


first tornado between wiper swipes small tornado east of highway

Moments after the funnel formed a debris cloud rose along the east side of the road. I managed to capture a few frames between wipe strokes, but the event only lasted for about 2 minutes. During this time we placed a call to alert the OK Highway Patrol who contacted the local weather office.

The funnel remained in place as the storm continued southeast and away from route #69. We would need another road east. Note, the southeast movement was about 90 degrees right of the 12,000 ft. AGL (above ground level) steering winds and mid level jet stream flow.


small tornado lifted - moving southeast 2nd tornado down - another forming

Our only option was to go through Wagoner and take #51 east across Ft. Gibson Lake. From this point we would be getting into the trees. As we made our turn and drove east I could see a much lower wall cloud buried just inside the western edge of the heavy rain. While crossing the bridge over the lake another chaser was setting up shop, we later learned it was Tim Marshall. Now the wall cloud was lowering fast and getting that glazed look when it's beginning to spin fast.

We were concerned the bridge would be too far west and the storm may bypass us to the east. So we dashed into the hills and trees in the area of Sequoyah State Park. A recreational area for Oklahoma. The tornado dropped rapidly over the lake forming a tornadic waterspout, then headed for the east shore. On a hill I was able to grab this shot. We were dealing with a large tornado. Note the funnel just to the right of the main tornado.


two tornadoes north of our position tornado sandwiched between rain curtains

The funnel was getting closer and our concern was to get out of the path in a place high and clear of obstructions. As we plowed into the storm the rain and low clouds made conditions dark. The funnel just to the east of the large tornado was now on the ground and twisting violently as it drew dirt into the air. About 90 percent of the time we could not see the approaching tornado(s). Finally, we found a spot west of the town of Hulbert.

At this time the tornado was buried in rotating rain curtains and seemed impossible to deal with, but the rain became lighter during the next couple of minutes and we could see the tornado better.


large tornado north-northwest approaching tornado with rotating rain

The visibility continued to improve as the tornado neared. the rotation and up motion were very dramatic during this time. We knew we had little time before the funnel would be close to our position.

The tornado was now providing us with the best photography lighting we would get. This would not last long. The tornado was moving toward us and a little to the right (east). If we bolted west we would lose the storm. If we chose east we would go into the rain with the tornado close behind us. We had no south option.


tornado continues to move southeast tornado remains visible through the rotating rain

The tornado was now audible and getting tall as the top of the funnel neared our position. We had no rain at our position and I remember very little wind. I ran out of film and sprinted back to the vehicle for another roll.

After reloading, I fired off a few more shots as the funnel approached. We would wait a little more then head east. Our next major road option south would be at Talequah.


final tornado shot before moving east

We were seeing debris chunks coming out of the funnel and it appeared it was hitting buildings; although, we could only see tree tops in the direction of the tornado. As we drove east we searched for another photography spot, but the road wound through hills and trees for miles. Finally we reached an open area and a huge wall cloud extended across the northern horizon. A long tail cloud was coming off the ground to our north east and feeding violently into the mesocyclone. We watched the tornado between the trees and the funnel was breaking down into suction spots. Then we lost it in the rain. We traveled east and rode out the storm in Talequah before proceeding south on #62 where tornado damage would occur. We were on the wrong side of the storm to observe that tornado, but did get a spectacular view of the cell as it proceeded south. never

A quote about this event from The Tornado Project Online: "June 1, 1999 4:35 CST A tornado passed through two communities in the Fort Gibson Lake area, just north of Sequoyah State Park and 4 miles west of Hulbert, Cherokee County, in eastern Oklahoma. A woman was killed in her mobile home, and 6 more people were injured, one critically. About 30 homes were damaged or destroyed, some of which were in the Hickory Hills addition, and the park suffered extensive damage." Reports in the local papers indicated 26 homes damaged or destroyed and over twenty people injured with one fatality. I'll assume the later report from The Tornado Project Online is more correct.

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