The Mayfield - Grimes - Cheyenne Oklahoma Tornadoes
of 16 May 1977

This tornado was the fifth significant event of six tornadoes on May 16th. It was in progress when we first saw it to our northeast. It was somewhat closer than the images indicate. I used a wide lens and a small tripod on the hood of the vehicle to capture the storm in the fading light. Exposure times were painfully slow, about 1/15th to 1/4 of a second near the end of this sequence. The slow shutter speed did help me capture a lightning bolt beside the tornado as it became close to dark. You may have seen this image in my lightning section.

The tornado traveled a distance of 22 miles from the Mayfield Oklahoma area to near the small town of Grimes, then on toward Cheyenne. The Storm Prediction Center (SPC) in Norman, Oklahoma has included an image of this tornado with other tornado images that cycle through their index page. We were photographing a tornado near Sweetwater, Oklahoma during the time the NSSL team captured this scene. As we traveled east we saw the tornado in progress.

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

tornado in progress northeast   violent whip sawing of the vortex

Interesting cloud features may be seen with this angle to the tornado. The light column of precipitation is apparent extending from the core area of the storm to the back of the tornado. This may be seen on radar as the hook echo.
The flanking line extended to the south-southwest or right side of the image for about 5-6 miles.


During the life of the tornado it changed shape every couple of minutes. It occasionally took on a wide wedge shape, but most often became a series of lessor vortices rotating around each other while forming and dissipating. Note how the wall cloud extends into a concave vault in the cloud base near the tornado. This storm had no obvious evidence of a drying RFD (rear flank downdraft) behind the wall cloud other than the suspicious concave formation.

tornado at its wide stage   classic V-funnel shape

During the life cycle of this tornado, which I believe was on the ground for 45 minutes; it destroyed trailers, barns, a couple of homes and damaged both hangers and aircraft. It was rated at F-2. At times the tornado was as wide as 1200 yards.


This is a short length telephoto shot of the vortex as it assumes a more classic V- shape. It continued to move away from us as we photographed.


I'm back stronger than ever
  narrow funnel snakes across open fields

Now here we have a surprise. Not only does the tornado get a new shot of life, look at the wall cloud. I have seen tornadoes reintensify, but I don't recall ever seeing a wall cloud redevelop after all but dissipating. During this time another tornado formed on the flanking line of this storm. It was located about 4 miles southwest of this tornado and closer to us. It was also in better photographic light. The second tornado seemed to have a hard time keeping up as it stretched out and finally dissipated.


At this time we thought the tornado was finally dissipating as only minor narrow funnels were swirling around on the ground. The wall cloud persisted through and continued turbulent motion. The tornado kept reforming and continued on to the northeast after we lost available light to photograph.

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