Caprock Magic

A tornadic storm in the Texas Panhandle

All images and text © copyright Gene Moore
unless otherwise indicated

developing storm wall cloud

The first ten days of April are occasionally active in the Texas Panhandle. In 1978 this early trip to Lubbock paid off, especially since the rest of the season was generally a dud. This was a typical dryline day with no great synoptic forcing features. The best area seemed to be near Lubbock where the winds had been backing to the south forcing greater convergence against the dryline. A surge of dry air moving out of New Mexico also seemed to be targeting this region of the panhandle. It was a 6 hour drive that was started about 10 AM. By three in the afternoon a line of seven thunderstorm had fired along the dryline. We picked storm number six, or one from the south end of the line. Later the south storm died putting us at the favored south end. We were near the small community of Heckville, Texas.


Drivers of vehicles traveling north under the anvil of the storm changed their minds after encountering large hail. Golf ball size hail was intermittent at our location, but just a quarter mile to the north it was covering the ground. To our west a funnel was beginning to spin up under the wall cloud. The cloud base was about 6000 feet above the ground so the tornado would have a long way to go before hitting dirt. Rain persisted behind the developing tornado, but did not impede our photography.

hail pounds auto to our north

The photo of the cars and hail also provides a look at the intensity of the storm with respect to appearance. The main core of the storm was falling out of the anvil which is the highest part of the storm. That allowed light to filter in under the cloud and provided an appearance of a storm that was not very threatening. We could almost see through this core; a faint image of a distant storm was visible over the power poles. Considering the large hail and tornado the storm was producing, appearances can be deceiving.

funnel beginning to form tornado on ground

The funnel hung from the wall cloud for a long time and we thought it would not make it to the surface, but then a narrow funnel shot the distance to the plowed fields below. The funnel swung about and at one time developed a helix in the middle of the column. I stopped to call in the tornado report and the Texas Department of Public Safety showed up promptly and told me to leave. There was a tornado in the area.

Tornado at it's best.....or worst depending... This image shows the tornado at it's mature stage. It turned out to be a good situation for photography. The rain and hail kept a reasonable distance. There were a few buildings in the vicinity, and initially they were all getting missed by the dangling tube, then a house got it's roof taken off and three barns were destroyed. The resulting destruction provided for a F-2 damage rating to be tagged on the tornado. The total path length of the tornado was only two miles. It covered that distance very slowly.

Slowly the bottom of the tornado broke with the ground and lifted. The funnel remained at cloud base long after the tornado lifted, but never returned to the ground. An intermittent debris swirl continued on the ground after the funnel was half way back to the cloud. Later this system would develop a second larger tornado about ten miles to the northeast. Were were about to become busy with another small, but interesting tornado close by our position.

Next Page - Caprock Magic Part 2

  condensation funnel lifted