Isolated Supercell and Tornado at Quail, TX
May 16, 1977

The Quail storm produced one on the most dramatic tornadoes of it's kind to be witnessed in my early chasing years. The supercell developed ahead of the dryline and south of the warm front in the eastern Texas Panhandle. Meanwhile, storms that had developed in the late morning hours were producing damaging hail near Amarillo. A few chase teams had gone west to these cells. Our decision was to wait for the dryline and play the eastern Texas Panhandle. The storm developed on what appeared to be an old boundary from previous storm activity; something we were not accustom to looking for in those early days. The early satellite images depicted an area of growing cumulus towers in the eastern panhandle, well east of the current dryline position. We watched the cumulus grow reluctant to make a move until the atmosphere blew up into a spectacular vertical mass of towering clouds. This storm turned out to be unusual and a good lesson towards keeping an open mind while chasing. The tornado formed on the northwest side of the cell.

developing supercell Main inflow shifting to the NW side of the cell

The developing Quail storm was beginning to send an anvil down stream in this image. New towers rapidly built into the back of the storm. The cell was surrounded by blue sky and scattered low cumulus clouds. At the time of this photo the main inflow into the storm was a flanking line of cumulus towers from the south, intersecting the storm on the west side. In the next image note the shift in the intersecting towers to the northwest side of the storm.


This image is taken looking east-northeast. Of special note is the area of precipitation falling out of the back of the storm behind and just to the southwest of the main updraft. The tornado should be located to the east of this region. Many times I have observed this area of rain directly behind or to the west of a tornado. This rain is caught up in the mesocyclone circulation and getting dumped out behind the storm. Enlarging the image shows no base above the precipitation responsible for this activity. Another clue to what's going on under the updraft.

view of the south side of the supercell Tornado - first glimpse

For reference purposes this is the view of the south side of the storm. The anvil is not very glaciated at this time and presents a thick but rough outer edge due to the early pulsed nature of the updrafts.


As rain curtain on the back of the storm dissipated we stopped to take a telephoto shot of the region. under the main updraft. Directly about the facility in the image a slightly lowered cloud base revels a funnel to ground. Depending on your screen resolution this feature may be hard to discern.

tornado northeast tornado becoming more visible

As this shot was taken a huge tornado was coming into view about 10 miles north-northeast of our position. We had one road to the north that led to a small town called Quail. A very small place we had never taken notice of before.


At this time the tornado is beginning to show some light brown from the dirt being picked up, but the color generally remains dark under the cloud base.

large tornado northeast detail of tornao becoming visible

The contrast was improving as this image was taken from the moving vehicle. Fortunately, the bright sunlit day allowed for fast shutter speeds to freeze the features whizzing past the car.


The tornado appears to be a little narrower at this point. We feared we may be losing the race to get there before the tornado dissipated.

large tornado north funnel begins to narrow

The stove pipe tornado remained large and full of debris as we approach from the south. The NSSL chase vehicle remained in the lead. The tornado is almost in the clear with blue sky surrounding the funnel to the west. We were totally in sunlight.


The Quail school in the foreground is covered with mud and a victim of F-2 Damage. It appears the maximum intensity of the damage path was slightly to the right of the school. The tornado decreased in size rapidly after passing through the small town and continued to move slowly north-northeast.

sunlit funnel narrowing tube

Numerous downed high line blocked the path to the north. A clear shot of the tornodo reveals an amazing rope-out scene. The funnel stretched and moved closer to the edge of the storm. The tornado is totally sunlit at this time.


The funnel was becoming visible further into the vertical extent of the storm as dry air wraped around the circulation. Note the top of the cumulus towers above the tornado.

funnel becoming contorted Spray vortex at base of funnel

The funnel is shown becoming contorted and unstable, but remained planted on the ground. Note in some of these images the sharp and broken 2X4's sticking into the ground.


Note the spray vortex at the base of the funnel. The fields were fulled with water providing a source for swirling mud and spray at the base of the tornado.

funnel continues to narrow rope tornado moves further northeast

Slow to die out the tornado continues to narrow slowly as rescuers continued to search the area for injured people.


The tornado, shown becoming more distant is very thin at the base. It remained strong during this stage ground as witnessed by the rapid rotation of mud and spray at the base of the circulation.

The final shot of the storm shows a thinning rope tornado almost ready to disappear from sight. This would be only tornado the storm would produce as the action for the day would shift further north and east along the Oklahoma - Texas border.

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thin rope fading from sight