Tornadoes - Many Are Different From
What Dorothy Saw

A Look at Different Shapes & Sizes of Tornadoes

all photos and text © Copyright Gene Moore

  pursuing Quail tornado

The Wedge Tornado

Typical "wedge tornado" is straight on the sides not funnel shaped and has a wide damage path. It's usually as wide, or wider than it is tall. These monsters are not necessarily stronger than funnels or other shaped tornadoes, but they do cover much more ground. This particular tornado was hanging out the west side of a supercell thunderstorm in the Texas Panhandle. The vehicle in the foreground is an NSSL chase vehicle doing its job long before books and movies told about chasing storms. In those days there was little glory just long days and tiring drives home while Oklahoma City DJ's played requested songs for the returning chasers. Occasionally, there was big reward like on this day.

Shortly after this photo was taken this tornado tore through a small Texas town. Residents saw it coming and were under ground, or in a safe shelter. This was the first in a series of tornadoes to strike the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma that day.

Another Wedge Tornado With A Different Appearance

  Shamrock Texas from the bridge 1977

This tornado lacks the typical funnel or classic tornadic appearance. Huge funnels like this one that are a mile wide are sometimes unrecognizable at close range as a tornado. They lack the classic narrow funnel appearance, but tend to appear as a boiling wall of fog approaching from out of nowhere, since they favor a position close to the rain wall. Generally the rain stops and the tornado makes a rapid appearance. These storms are the ones that are generally blamed for "striking without warning" since some people try to observe the tornado before taking shelter. Funnels of this character are more common in the southeastern quarter of the nation where moisture from the Gulf of Mexico is thick and cloud bases are low. That said, this one was in the Texas Panhandle and they can form anywhere in the plains when conditions are ripe.

The width of this particular beast varies depending on whose damage survey one believes. Original damage surveys measured over a mile wide at some places, but newer versions put it at less than half that size. When it crossed the Interstate at I-40 the appearance from one mile away filled one half the drivers side window all the windshield and part of their passenger window. Now the amazing part, two men on motorcycles were lying in the shallow depression between lanes as it passed over. They saw it coming and dumped their bikes to lie flat in the grassy low spot. It worked and both were unhurt. Odds are they will remember that day for a long time.

A Classic Tornado, But It's White

It's all in the angle of the sun. The tornado seen here is "front lit" by sunlight so it's white. Most tornadoes are photographed as they move in from the west with the sunlight filtering in behind them. Those tornadoes are generally black to dark grey. Regardless of the color the damage is the same. This tornado was hanging out of the back of the storm in northern Iowa. The white cloud at the base of the funnel is water being rotated into a white froth.

Tornadoes that that occur in the sunlight can be dangerous to those thinking the storm is over. This tornado was probably not easy to see from straight north or in the rain. The photography from that angle was very low contrast.

  brief tornado near Beggs OK 1997

Sometimes The Funnel Does Damage And The Condensation
Funnel Is Not On The Ground.

This contorted tube type tornado did tree damage in the forested area to our north. The funnel appears to not be on the ground, but it was for quite a while. As part of a TV crew in 1980 we photographed this tornado from 2 miles south. There was no lightning or rain where we were doing our taping, a perfect setup we thought. Lightning came down from the anvil of the storm and struck the powers lines, traveled down the pole and across the barb wire fence. Four of us found ourselves on the ground after a bright arc came out of my hand and struck my friend who was standing behind me. All of us survived, but we were sore for a couple of days. The video was shown on a TV station in Oklahoma City. After the news a technician recorded another story over the tape. The record of the lightning strike was lost forever except in our minds, where it remains very clear to this day. A somewhat humorous story was written about the incident and later published in Stormtrack Magazine. At the time Stormtrack was a hand typed newsletter distributed to about 100 storm chasers.

  Tornado west of Sulphur OK 1980

Discontinuous Funnel in the Rain

    Tornado in two segments - Colorado

This tornado was northeast of Bennett, Colorado in the late 1980's. The funnel made an sudden appearance from out of the rain then extended a weak circulation to the ground. It was hard to tell if the funnel looped back into the rain or it had a break in the condensation. Funnels such as this are hard to see and an example of what may lurk in the rain during a day when the potential for tornadic storms is present. This particular tornado did not do any damage that we know about. The northeast section of Adams County, Colorado is mainly open farm land with sparsely scattered homes.


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