The Canadian, Texas Tornadoes
of 7 May 1986

All images and text © copyright Gene Moore
unless otherwise indicated

On a very hazy afternoon two supercells thunderstorms formed in the eastern Texas Panhandle. This was not surprise to chasers. Early in the day it was obvious there were two prime areas for storms. One was in the northern Texas Panhandle and the other was in the south. Which area to chase was the tough decision. Most certainly the wrong choice would lead to a bust since both storms would reach their peak at the same time. There would be no time to switch horses once the decision was made. With a vivid memory of recently choking on such a decision at Pampa; I would make sure I got it right today. As it turned out the pondering and plotting made me late, but I did get the correct storm. Chasers that dropped south at the I-40 and TX 83 junction for Childress would see a spectacular severe storm, but no tornadoes.

While proceeding north on TX 83 I noted the winds were steadily backing or becoming more easterly. As I reached the south edge of the storm the wind was about 40 m.p.h. from the east. The Canadian storm was a monster producing a total of five tornadoes, numerous funnels and large hail during a two hour period. Chaser Tim Marshall not only did a good job capturing the tornadoes he later submitted a damage survey to Storm Data. From the survey map I can determine that I missed tornado number one and photographed two and three. I video taped tornado number four and later watched the fifth tornado while positioned near the OU crew on the back of the storm. All I could do was watch after my camera locked up.

tornado #2 shooting west   tornado #3 planted

The second tornado of the day and my first vortex is pictured here. The image is darkened to bring out the funnel which was buried in the excessive haze. The visibility was good for only about 2 miles then deteriorated as the contrast got very bad. Only about half the funnel shows up in the image. The light side blends into the background. This tornado was about four miles west of my position. Getting closer to this tornado would have compromised my position for the next tornado so I let it go and drove north.


The next tornado would be the big one of the day and it put on quite a performance. A lack of roads across the range country of Hemphill County kept chasers at a distance, but the large funnel was still quite visible. The tornado started as a sharp needle that shot to the ground and widened rapidly.

tornado #3 widens   tornado becomes briefly cone shaped

The tornado is shown at its maximum width of 300 yards. The path length was seven miles and for the first three miles it was moving directly toward Canadian. It later turned to the northwest sparing the small town.


The tornado was rated F-3 due to the destruction of two H-frame electrical transmission towers that it hit. Additionally, cattle were killed, but no other significant damage was reported.

at this moment the funnel looked motionless   large dirt debris cloud

The tornado is moving away from my photography position during this image and it's the last of this series before the contrast got bad. On this day I shot video and stills simultaneously. That's hard to do and get them both right.


Moving further north in this image the tornado loses the backlighting and gathers more dust. The resulting poor contrast prompts me to proceed north on TX 83 toward Canadian.

As the tornado begins the shrinking stage the action got interesting. Lumps and perturbations moved up the side of the funnel and it began to twist and contort.

  tornado in shrinking stage

My new position on the south side of Canadian was ENE of the tornado. This position yielded more back light and improved contrast. It was also much closer. A wild rope out would follow this scene. I continued to shoot stills during this stage as the tornado broke into sections and whipped violently across the open country.

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