The Shamrock Texas Tornado of 16 May 1977

After photographing the F-3 tornado at Quail we moved east then north on Texas highway 83. We drove out of the sunshine and into a rapidly moving overcast sky. Low level clouds were pouring in from the east as dark bases developed. Along the northern horizon a well developed circulation was in progress along the right side of the highway. Thin fibers of cloud material were condensing and being pulled up into a long dark base. Further north another more sinister lowering was taking form, but we had to stop for pictures as the first wall cloud was spinning up fast.

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

  wide view of a stormy TX panhandle

The west Texas panorama filled with threatening clouds. With anxiety we filmed the small funnel developing to our east while carefully watching the churning base to the north.

forming funnel east of highway   funnel decends close to ground

The center of the lowering begin to form a laminar funnel at the base. All of the lowered area was spinning rapidly. The distance to the center of the circulation was about a quarter mile.


A well formed funnel begins to descend to earth. At this time it appeared a tornado would form nearby. We could not ask for a better view.

almost, but not quite a tornado   large tornado forming

The tip of the funnel came very close to the ground, but we didn't see debris. The funnel slowly sheared out and dissipated. We immediately drove north to position ourselves for the next event.


This image was taken looking east. The center of the lowering was rotating at tornadic speed while cloud elements rushed into the circulation from the north (left). A thin mist of condensation was forming from the cloud to the ground. Over the years I've remembered this scene as one of my favorites.

gaint hail falling near tornado   massive tornado east through northeast

After turning north we encountered very large hail, about 3 to 4 inches in diameter. It crashed onto the highway and all vehicles unfortunate enough to be under the storm. We would find a much more dangerous aspect of the storm in progress just over the hill.


Proceeding east on I -40 we came upon a huge black wall of wind and condensation crossing the highway. The tornado filled the windshield and drivers side window. Two suction spot tornadoes were rotating around the back of the funnel at this time. Imagine for a moment lying down in the center grass median with this huge tornado passed over. Two motorcycle riders did just that, and survived.

large tornado churns northeast  

We climbed atop the overpass to get a better view of the tornado. When the tornado was crossing the dirt road in the foreground the winds were too strong to photograph, or stand. We waited until the tornado move a little further to the northeast before shooting. If you enlarge the image and look down the road you will see a haze of condensation and mud roaring across the road. The high winds from the tornado extended well beyond the funnel to the outer edge of the wall cloud. A curtain of wind and cloud filaments circled the edge of the wall cloud at very high speed.


The tornado continued to move slowly to the north east, but inflow winds remained at about 60 knots. I braced the camera against the bridge rail to get a steady shot. The loud roar of the tornado could still be heard at this time. While shooting I remembered the two motorcycle riders. I glanced down to watch the young men get up from the depression in the median. They got on their bikes and rode west; no doubt with quite a story to tell.

funnel becomes darker and more vertical   tornado widens to a block shape

At this time the funnel became more visible and darker in contrast. Perhaps it was moving across a plowed field. The wall cloud above the tornado rotated just as violently as the funnel.


I moved to the east side of the bridge to shoot and noticed the nearby filling station was destroyed. It was located below me and to my right. Note some of the power poles are still standing, yet power poles 200 yards down the road were all snapped. The back of the tornado with its suction spots had caused this random damage pattern.

wall cloud begins to look like a tall cylinder   outer shell of wall  cloud now laminar

In the last shot the funnel had gotten much wider and here it's pictured in more of a wedge shape again. The funnel rapidly changed shape as we watched. The wall cloud around the top of the funnel was becoming smooth and laminar on the sides.

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The contrast was getting poor as this image was taken. The rain was beginning to wrap around the back of the funnel.

The wall cloud in this scene was violently rotating and had become glass smooth on the sides. We could see debris flying as the funnel tore through a stand of trees. After this image we headed east and north to position ourselves for the next tornado the day. It cost us the rope out scene, but was worth as we shot three more tornadoes.