The Mayfield - Sweetwater Oklahoma Tornadoes
of 16 May 1977

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

first shot out the left window tornado appears in the distance

It was one of those days it seemed nothing could go wrong. We're on a roll, two tornadoes deep into an mini-outbreak. We broke off the Shamrock tornado early and skipped the rope out stage in order to get further north to the next storm. We traveled north on state highway 30 near the Oklahoma - Texas border. We were pursuing a cell that looked promising. In the first image we were still trying to get in position. I focused across the driver to get a shot through the window. The lowering appeared as a shelf cloud in the distance; although, there was a distant feature extending to the ground in the darkness under the base. We were located just north of Mayfield, Oklahoma along highway 30 when this series started. During the tornados we traveled along highway 30 to a position north of Sweetwater, Oklahoma where we lost the tornado in the rain.

tornado 4 to 5 miles southwest dramatic curving inflow into tornadic circulation

The form of a funnel slowly took shape and a concentric striations appeared in the cloud formation. What's totally amazing about this is the inflow into the tornado is from the north. Back then, it was the first time we had ever watched a mesocyclone this wrapped up. The arc of clouds approaches from the south, curves west, then south into the tornado. Winds aloft from 230 degrees and surface wind into the tornado from north; that's 230 degrees of directional shear at the base of the wall cloud.

 

The first wide angle image depicts the stunning curvature into the tornado cyclone. At this time we concentrated on the back of the circulation. The first tornado has dissipated and oddly it has quit raining directly in back of the circulation, but a thin curtain of rain continued further west.

 

tornado throws out dirt new tornado forming

Rain was still falling behind the wall cloud as some of the precipitation begin to circle around the south side. About three minutes passed as the circulation made it's way into the field just to our west. At that time two funnels extended to the ground and rotated around each other, then the outer one dissipated. The center vortex began to throw dirt as the funnel left the grassy areas and entered the plowed fields to our west. Excessive dirt and dust did not rise up from the rain soaked ground on this occasion. Note small debris circulation were occurring behind the tornado from an arcing band of clouds behind the tornado.

tornado lifts again - funnel widens new funnel decends on left

A new feature developed on the outer edge of the tornado. It appeared to be a second tornado forming. During this image it remained a violently rotation funnel. The main funnel lifted and became wider at the top engulfing the outer circulation. In the second image the main tornado circulation under the center of the wall cloud again became dominant.

wide V- shaped funnel decends A wide "V" slowly descended to the ground to our west-northwest. The inflow into the tornado from the north was very strong at this time. Note the low curtain on the right side of the image feeding into the tornado.


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