May 26, 1997 Tornadoes near Beggs and Preston, Oklahoma

Like yesterday, today was going to be another tornado outbreak day. There was a surface low near Enid, Oklahoma and extremely warm and moist air throughout eastern Oklahoma. The air was explosive with high dewpoints in the 70's, CAPES of 7000 j/kg and a LI's up to -14C. There was good upper level support. Unfortunately, the chase country in east central Oklahoma is more difficult with trees and hills reducing visibility. I was with Cloud 9 (Charles Edwards et al) and Jim Leonard. We left Kansas after the Perth, Kansas Tornado damage survey and search for the 'Dillo Cam. We headed toward eastern Oklahoma south of Tulsa. In such an unstable environment, we were worried that many storms would develop at the same time. Choice would be difficult and storms near each other would compete for energy. By 5:50PM, we were watching a storm develop directly over us. We watched an exploding updraft that churned and rotated. As we looked up, the storm appeared to be moving in time-lapse. A small shear funnel appeared and vanished within a few minutes. The storm slowly moved to our north and a wall cloud appeared. Inflow began and we watched as the wall cloud widened and contracted. We waited. The wall cloud lowered and an inflow-tail developed by 6:15. The wall cloud was very low by 6:32 and we left our observation area to follow the storm toward Beggs, Oklahoma. The chase was on!

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Swirling updraft
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Observing the wall cloud
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Time to change positions
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Early wall cloud
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Wall cloud
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Rapidly lowering wall cloud with good inflow.

As we drove, there were numerous tornado warnings on the radio. We watched the lowering and rotating wall cloud through sporadic rain. Visibility was difficult because of the trees. Finally, the cloud became a long tube that snaked toward the ground. We stopped briefly but had to drive on because of traffic. There were no good places to pull over. The funnel quickly dissipated and the original meso occluded. Luckily, a new meso was forming toward Preston, Oklahoma.

The Beggs Tornado

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Near Beggs, we came over a hill and saw a ragged lowering. It initially didn't appear to be rotating until we saw the cloud of debris. (At the red arrow in this video still.) Charles said, "Turnaround, it's a tornado" to our driver Richard Bedard, and we made a hasty retreat. While approaching the new Preston meso, we were slowed by numerous people parking their cars (v) under an overpass and blocking the road. We continued and observed a huge wall cloud in the distance over a low hill. A wedge tornado appeared and was moving south. Judging its size was difficult due to the very low clouds that almost touched the hill. We parked and watched the tornado. Because of lightning danger, Charles kept us inside the vehicle. The storm, backlit with an orange sky, was both beautiful and scary. I was worried that there were houses in its path.

The Preston Tornado

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We continued the chase, trying to get a better view of the storm. The tornado lifted, but the wall cloud continued to rotate. At another parking area, we watched several cows run a few minutes before the swirling black storm dropped another funnel. Funnels continued to appear and vanish as the storm approached our position. The storm was getting closer and I was getting a little worried. We warned a family with several dogs to get to shelter and we took off.

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A brief funnel
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Swirling black clouds
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The cows ran before this funnel

Again we maneuvered to a safe viewing position and watched a tornado form in front of us. The scene was eerie with frequent crashes of thunder accented with the wails of police sirens. The lightning strikes were close enough that Charles could smell the ozone. The tornado quickly vanished into the rain and we drove around the storm to get a better view. At one point, tornadoes were visible from both sides of our vehicle from different storms. The chase ended with a beautiful sunset.

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This hose of a tornado quickly became rain-wrapped
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Updraft of a weakening storm
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Most chases end with a beautiful sunset

V - Video still from Hi8
P - Photo from slide, Kodachrome 64

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