The Waurika Oklahoma Tornadoes
of 30 May 1976

This storm was well anticipated and attended by all chasers at OU and NSSL. The year had been lean for good storms and we were ready for some local entertainment. The synoptic pattern was classic, a surface low and warm front set up along the Red River and remained stationary during the day. Back then most chase vehicles were what ever we had available to drive, no fancy 4X4's decked out with equipment. Even the NSSL chase vans were rather sparse having an old two-way radio that didn't work very well. So most of us checked the maps and went the rest of the way on visual. With mostly clear skies and good visibility it was an easy task to find the storm we wanted. As it turned out the best tornadoes of the day were buried in the rain and north of the main paved roads thus evading our cameras and best intentions.

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

first CB along warm front - east   convective towers punching through the cap

Mother nature threw in a trick to start the day. The first storm didn't develop on the surface low, but further northeast along the warm front. If this cell had stayed together would have moved into the trees and hills of far southeast Oklahoma, not the best chase country.


After the first storm died towering cumulus begin to boil up along the warm front. The updrafts were quite strong during the late afternoon. One shown here managed to spin up a little funnel, a preview of what was to come later in the day.

towering clouds gathering along Red River   developing supercell

A large mass of cumulus conjestus formed to the south of highway 70 and moved northeast to the warm front. This was what we had been waiting for all day.


As the developing clouds reached the front a storm quickly shot up. The structure early on was just what we wanted to see, an isolated storm with one rain core and a flanking line to the south.


wall cloud develops - pulling up condensation
  rotating wall cloud crosses highway 70 - moving south

A wall cloud was quick to form under the flanking line. Here it is shown rapidly pulling up threads of scud clouds into the lowering base. Already at this time rotation was evident.


What this storm was noted for was not the tornadoes it produced, but the many variations on the wall cloud circulations. This was the second change in the circulation as it got much larger and ragged. Rotation at this time was quite dramatic over the highway.

wall cloud changes shape rapidly   tornadic motion in wall cloud but no tornado

The wall cloud is again changing shape and beginning to tighten into a lower and stronger circulation, but again, this fails to produce a tornado.


At this time the storm again attempted to produce a tornado with strong rotation, but instead the circulation split into two lowerings, both rotating. After hours of rotation we wondered if it would ever produce a tornado.

wall cloud dramatically changes shape   tornado west

Show here is the final and most dramatic wall configuration of the day before the tornado, again appearances were deceptive. The strong rotation in the center of the circulation did not produce the tornado. The funnel appeared from a small knob hanging from the far southwest corner of the lowering and away from the main wall cloud.


During this time I repositioned myself to get a better angle of the storm and got caught on the road when the tornado came down. Scrambling to regain position further south I missed getting the base of the funnel in the photograph. As I got to the top of the hill the show was over, at least for now. A damage survey found a short path 100 yards wide.

funnel buried in rotating rain curtain   wall cloud becomes concentric

A second funnel formed further north and turned out to be a tornado as shown by a later damage survey. The path length was 1 mile with a width of 33 yards. Here the funnel is surrounded by a rotating rain curtain.


Another funnel forms, but this one does not touch down. Meanwhile the wall cloud goes through another dramatic change. This time it spun into a beautiful concentric cylinder.

inflow band under flanking line   merging inflow bands north

Finally the storm moved north of highway 70 and a new circulation spun up. During this time the flanking line merged with an inflow band from the east. This setup later produced a rain wrapped wall cloud and another tornado, but it was rain obscured and could only be reached by mud roads off the main highway. A few chasers tried to get north to the developing tornado, but were stopped in the Oklahoma gumbo mud after a few hundred yards.


Another shot of the merging flanks to our north. It was during this time the shot was made that was later put on the cover of Weatherwise Magazine. The main precipitation core of the storm had moved north and was causing flooding rains.

OU chaser photographs rotation along hwy 70

An OU chaser photographs the rotating low clouds just north of our position. We kept having to duck in the vehicles as nearby lightning strikes made standing outside a scary experience.

  tornado from the west side of the storm

NSSL photo of the Waurika tornado taken from the west of the storm.

tornado from the east side of the storm

NSSL photo of the Waurika tornado taken from the southeast of the storm.

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