Tornadoes Slam 5-State Area, Killing Two; Outbreak Continues Today

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 1:29 PM GMT on May 20, 2013

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The Midwest U.S. is under the gun again today, as a potent storm system that spawned a preliminary count of 24 tornadoes in five states on Sunday reloads and prepares to dish out another afternoon and evening of atmospheric mayhem. Sunday's tornadoes swept through Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Illinois, with Oklahoma bearing the brunt of the assault. The outbreak's only deadly tornado--preliminarily rated as en EF-5 with 166 - 200 mph winds--hit Shawnee, Oklahoma, a town of 30,000 located 35 miles southeast of Oklahoma City. The twister leveled a trailer park, killing two people, and blew a semi-trailer off of an expressway overpass on I-40. At least 21 people were injured and 300 homes destroyed over the five-state area by the tornadoes. The 24 tornadoes from May 19 make it the biggest day for tornadoes in the U.S. this spring, and the highest number reported in one day since January 30, when 44 tornadoes touched down from Georgia to Indiana.


Figure 1. The Shawnee, Oklahoma tornado at 6:44 pm CDT May 19, 2013, as it passed just NW of Shawnee. The tornado killed two people in a mobile home park in Shawnee. Viewer submitted photo. #okwx pic.twitter.com/UCH9e8o9G8 Matt Mahler@themahler


Figure 2. The Shawnee tornado hurled a semi-trailer off of an expressway overpass at Highway 117 and I-40 in Oklahoma, and toppled another semi. Four people who sheltered under this overpass were injured, one seriously, and taken to the hospital. Highway overpasses can act to amplify a tornado's winds, and are very dangerous places to be during a tornado. According to the NWS in Norman Oklahoma, during the tornado outbreak of May 3, 1999, tornadoes crossed three highway overpasses, and at all three locations, there was a fatality. One of the fatalities occurred from an EF-2 tornado in a rural area, which suggests that a tornado need not be a large, violent tornado with a considerable debris cloud to cause fatal injuries to people seeking shelter from storms under overpasses. In addition to the fatal injuries to three people, there were also many severe, potentially life-threatening and gruesome injuries inflicted upon people underneath the overpasses, that in some cases, has left these people with permanent disabilities. Don't take shelter under a highway overpass from a tornado! Image credit: KFOR.com.


Figure 3. Radar reflectivity image taken at 6:08 pm CDT May 19, 2013 of the supercell thunderstorm that spawned the Shawnee, Oklahoma tornado.


Figure 4. Doppler velocity image taken at 6:08 pm CDT May 19, 2013 of the supercell thunderstorm that spawned the Shawnee, Oklahoma tornado. Note the couplet of dark red colors right next to light blues near the center of the image, showing that the air was moving both towards the radar and away from it within a short distance, indicating a tight rotation of the tornado's parent mesocyclone.

Iowa's record tornado-free streak ends at 359 days
A tornado touched down near Slater, Iowa at 6:10 pm CDT on Sunday, May 19, one of six tornadoes reported in the state that day. Remarkably, it was the first tornado recorded in the state since May 24, 2012 (Fayette County.) The 359-day streak without a tornado was the longest tornado-free period in state history. The previous record was 355 days, set between May 5, 1955, and April 26, 1956. The new streak is far more impressive because digital technology and spotter networks today are so comprehensive, resulting in far fewer missed tornadoes. There was a much higher likelihood back in the 1950s for tornadoes to be missed. The exceptional tornado-free period was due to the combination of the state's dry summer of 2012 (3rd driest on record) and cold spring of 2013 (8th coldest March - April on record). Thunderstorms like heat and moisture to form, and its tough to get a tornado if you're experiencing a top-ten driest or coldest spring or summer.


Figure 5. Radar reflectivity image of the tornado-spawning supercell thunderstorm that dropped an EF-1 tornado just to the southwest of Wichita, Kansas, on May 19, 2013.

Wichita gets lucky
At 3:30 pm Sunday, Kansas' largest city, Wichita, got a major scare when a large supercell thunderstorm spawned a half-mile wide tornado to the southwest of the city. The tornado headed directly for the airport and downtown Wichita, prompting the issuance of "Tornado Emergency" for the city. In the wake of the deadly EF-5 tornado that leveled Joplin, Missouri in 2011, the NWS decided to give local NWS offices the option to issue special, strongly worded tornado warnings to let the population know when a particularly dangerous tornado--one that has been confirmed by spotters to be on the ground--is approaching. The NWS issued one of these very strongly-worded tornado warnings on Sunday for Wichita:

Statement as of 3:47 PM CDT on May 19, 2013
... A Tornado Warning remains in effect for southern Sedgwick County until 415 PM CDT...

... Tornado emergency for Wichita...

At 345 PM CDT... a confirmed large... violent and extremely dangerous tornado was located on the southwest side of Wichita... and moving northeast at 30 mph.

This is a particularly dangerous situation.

Hazard... deadly tornado.

Source... weather spotters confirmed tornado.

Impact... you could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter. Complete destruction of neighborhoods... businesses and vehicles will occur. Flying debris will be deadly to people and animals.

Locations impacted include...Maize... downtown Wichita... Wichita... Bel Aire... McConnell Air Force Base…east Wichita and Oaklawn.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

This is an extremely dangerous tornado with complete devastation likely. You could be killed if not underground or in a tornado shelter. Do not delay... seek shelter now! If no underground shelter is available seek shelter in an interior room of the lowest level of a structure... or if time allows... consider moving to an underground shelter elsewhere. Mobile homes and outbuildings will offer no shelter from this tornado.

Tornado... observed
Tornado damage threat... catastrophic
Hail... 2.75in

Wichita TV station KSNW did an excellent job covering the tornado, but were forced to abandon the studio during the height of the storm, as seen on this video clip. You can hear hail pounding the roof as the news crew scrambles for shelter. Station meteorologist J.D. Rudd has this to say: "We are okay. I'll tell you though, it got intense. That thing passed right over our studio. Luckily, it had lifted. But I truly thought the roof of our studio was about to peel off. And the sound of the hail was deafening. What a day. Three hours of coverage with the largest city in the state under a TOR warning for a long time. Weather service called it a Tornado Emergency…'Large, violent tornado on the ground'. Words that gave me chills when I read them." Preliminary damage surveys from the NWS indicate that the Wichita tornado was an EF-1 with a path length 4.6 miles that lifted two miles south of the Wichita airport.


Figure 6. Severe weather outlook for Monday, May 20, calls for a "Moderate Risk" of severe weather over much of Oklahoma, and portions of surrounding states. You can follow today's severe weather outbreak from our Severe Weather page.

Another big severe weather day today in the Midwest
The latest forecasts from NOAA's Storm Prediction Center call for an active severe weather day again on Monday, with a "Moderate Risk" of severe weather over much of Oklahoma, plus portions of Southwest Missouri, Northwest Arkansas, and extreme North Texas. The highest threat for tornadoes will be in Southern Oklahoma and into North Texas. The severe weather outbreak will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday, progressing eastwards into the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes. Only a "Slight Risk" of severe weather is expected those days.


Video 1. Impressive footage (peaking at 4:30 of the video) of the huge tornado that devastated Carney, Oklahoma on May 19, 2013.


Video 2. The "Dominator 3" armored tornado intercept vehicle saw plenty of action on Sunday, as seen in this video, taken just northeast of Edmond, Oklahoma. From the ‪http://tvnweather.com/‬ description of the video: "This tornado was one of the strongest ever intercepted, and we needed all 10,000k pounds of the new Dominator because I have never felt vibration like that before as we were slammed by suction vortices wrapping all around the vehicle. Jim Cantore was on board and he's hooked. All part of #TornadoChasers, Season 2013 coming up this fall on ‪http://tvnweather.com/ondemand‬"

Additional info
Wunderblogger Lee Grenci has an interesting post discussing how last Wednesday's Granbury, Texas tornado was able to form in an atmosphere that seemingly had too little wind shear to get a supercell thunderstorm spinning. The Granbury tornado was an EF-4 with 166 - 200 mph winds that killed six people, and was part of a weather system separate from the one that is generating the current Midwest U.S. tornado outbreak.

news9.com out of Oklahoma City had some excellent live helicopter coverage of Sunday's storms, and will likely be out there again today.

Jeff Masters

Severe Thunderstorm Warned 4 (smyezek)
Outflow dominate storms, interesting to watch especially this wall of water that just pushed east. Lots of wind, heavy rains and even some decent size hail (mainly quarter sized, but may have been slightly larger). Intercepted this storm several miles SW of Coin, Ia (Page County). Wall of Water from an outflow dominate storm.
Severe Thunderstorm Warned 4
Don't Try This At Home (taddarkprince)
No Really....Don't try this at home. Pentax K-5 and Tamron 10-24mm Lens.
Don't Try This At Home
Rozel, KS Stovepipe Tornado! (charlesimages)
My first tornado ever in my chasing career, and it's this massive beast! Awesome! Follow my adventures at facebook.com/CharlesimagesStormedia and cistormedia.com!
Rozel, KS Stovepipe Tornado!
Medford, OK (amy1225)
Medford, OK
After the Storm (ctrmom)
Calm after the storm, with lots of birds singing in the background too!
After the Storm

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Member Since: July 21, 2011 Posts: 82 Comments: 7056
Pauls Valley storm is consolidating its circulation. May drop something soon.
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AccuWeather.com‏@breakingweather3 min
RT @nwsnorman: 431pm - TORNADO just west of Meeker!! Take Cover Now!!! #okwx
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Texas cell has begun to right move, has rotation.





Comanche area needs to watch out.
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 45 Comments: 11556
KFOR reporter weeping as he reports that there were students in at least one of the destroyed schools. Reports of "third graders" being pulled from the rubble. Sounded like he wasn't at the school yet, but said that what he was already seeing, it was the most horrific thing he has seen in 18 years of tornado coverage in OKC
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Paul's Valley
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Supercell radar shot of the Moore storm before it hit there.

EDIT: I'm hearing that portions of Newcastle also took a bad hit from this storm. Heard where one subdivision was pretty well wiped out although it wasn't completely occupied yet.
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MAN, THE REPORTERS ARE CRYING OH MY GOSH!!!!!!!!
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Tornado on the ground. West of Meeker in Lincoln County.
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Good God...I missed a lot while I was gone...thoughts go out to the people of Moore.
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Shoreacres I am praying for your family
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Quoting WxGeekVA:


I am watching that feed also. When I saw that picture my jaw just dropped. That has to be EF4 minimum status. And the width is just amazing.

Nothing but bad news coming out of that area for a while. So sad
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 597
I believe a new circulation may be forming on the Moore storm. Otherwise I think nothing much more will come out of it.
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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
NWS is reporting a large and extremely dangerous tornado north of Tulsa. Storm is heading to Talala. Population is 256.


Six of those folks are family - I'm holding my breath.
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Tornado that passe north of Tulsa

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TWC Breaking ‏@TWCBreaking: At 4:12pm, Oklahoma City's main airport (Will Rogers) reported damaging 2"-diameter hail from a new cell
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52257
Quoting nofailsafe:
Well, looks like we're also going to be covering the DFW area pretty soon.


That's still a very long way from DFW area, but there are still a good number of people in that area. That cell looks pretty dangerous. I'm about to take a closer look at that one.
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 45 Comments: 11556
Sorry about the reposting, but the image says it all...

Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4203
Quoting Bluestorm5:
Just woke up to my mom yelling at me to turn on Weather Channel because Twitter exploded with OKC tornado tweets...

I got to say this... my god. This is the worst damage I've seen since Joplin. Easily a EF4. Maybe a EF5 (usually I'm careful not saying this, but it is the worst damage I've seen since Joplin).


Bluestorm, not just TWC every major national news outlet is covering this; ABC and NBC broke from regulary scheduled programing
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Quoting JTDailyUpdate:


IMO Moore isn't no stranger to major tornados and its buildings should be ready for a tornado, however with the magnitude of the storm and also the timing of it; It would be a miracle if there even a few fatalities,


Thank you everyone for the replies. I am praying for all those impacted by this tornado...Terrible day for Oklahoma.
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Quoting GrandCaymanMed:
Prayers for all those affected by the tornado...
This looks absolutely devastating.

Question- In Moore- do most structures have basements?
And if so...have basements that are 1 story below
or more been shown to be effective shelters in a tornado of this magnitude? I don't live in the Midwest so please excuse my lack of knowledge here.

Yes, a large number of people in this area has a basement/storm shelter to my knowledge.
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 45 Comments: 11556
The storm in TX looks very dangerous, as does the one in northeast OK.
Member Since: February 11, 2012 Posts: 79 Comments: 7295
NWS is reporting a large and extremely dangerous tornado north of Tulsa. Storm is heading to Talala. Population is 256.
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"Multiple" fatalities are being reported in Moore.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 108 Comments: 30251
It is obviously a EF5 Tornado, as it leveled Schools, which are well constructed buildings. 210MPH winds recorded according to the news...
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4203
Oh my gosh !!!!!!I JUST CAN'T BELIEVE, I'M PRAYING!!!
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Quoting Neapolitan:
Th 1999 Bridge Creek - Moore storm killed 36 and injured 583. In addition, it damaged or destroyed 8132 homes, 1041 apartments, 260 businesses, 11 public buildings and seven churches. Based on the obviously limited video and pictures I've seen in this past hour, today's storm may unfortunately equal--or surpass--some of those numbers.

Same fear here. This stuff is unreal.
Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 45 Comments: 11556
SevereStudios‏@severestudios4 min
And yet another tornado nearing MEEKER, OK according to @KFOR. Take cover now! Same supercell that produced Moore TOR (4:21pm)
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Well, looks like we're also going to be covering the DFW area pretty soon.

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Parent reported that the schools were in locked down when the school hit. Not good. Means the children were inside the schools.
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Quoting GrandCaymanMed:
Prayers for all those affected by the tornado...
This looks absolutely devastating.

Question- In Moore- do most structures have basements?
And if so...have basements that are 1 story below
or more been shown to be effective shelters in a tornado of this magnitude? I don't live in the Midwest so please excuse my lack of knowledge here.


IMO Moore isn't no stranger to major tornados and its buildings should be ready for a tornado, however with the magnitude of the storm and also the timing of it; It would be a miracle if there even a few fatalities,
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This is a saved image of the Moore tornado....
Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4203
Town of Talala OK has a tornado heading towards it.
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Just woke up to my mom yelling at me to turn on Weather Channel because Twitter exploded with OKC tornado tweets...

I got to say this... my god. This is the worst damage I've seen since Joplin. Easily a EF4. Maybe a EF5 (usually I'm careful not saying this, but it is the worst damage I've seen since Joplin).
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Prayers to those families of injured and lost loved ones. This is so depressing to watch.
Member Since: August 18, 2011 Posts: 0 Comments: 597
Th 1991 Bridge Creek - Moore storm killed 36 and injured 583. In addition, it damaged or destroyed 8132 homes, 1041 apartments, 260 businesses, 11 public buildings and seven churches. Based on the obviously limited video and pictures I've seen in this past hour, today's storm may unfortunately equal--or surpass--some of those numbers.
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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Moore storm has a tornado on the ground. Chasers reporting 1 mile.


I hope that storm system doesn't have any more tricks up its sleeve, and has spent most of its energy in Moore
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Two tornadoes on the ground in Oklahoma, one in Kansas.
Member Since: July 6, 2010 Posts: 108 Comments: 30251
Jeff P on CNN stating, another mile-wide tornado on the ground that he is going to catch up to soon, unreal . Don't know the location. Jeff P is one of the best, God speed to him.
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Nvm. The chaser is a little excited. Went from being a mile wide to just a funnel.
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Member Since: July 21, 2011 Posts: 82 Comments: 7056
Prayers for all those affected by the tornado...
This looks absolutely devastating.

Question- In Moore- do most structures have basements?
And if so...have basements that are 1 story below
or more been shown to be effective shelters in a tornado of this magnitude? I don't live in the Midwest so please excuse my lack of knowledge here.
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Moore storm has a tornado on the ground. Chasers reporting 1 mile. KFOR is anyway. May be exaggerated.
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I have never seen anything like this EVER. Must be unreal on the ground. Hopefully the National Guard is quickly mobilizing.

My stomach is one giant knot.
Member Since: June 1, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 880
Meeker
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Quoting SouthDadeFish:


This may be new the benchmark for massive tornado destruction along with ones such as the Joplin tornado. My prayers go out for those affected by the storms. I cringe at just the thought of what these people just went through and still have to go through.


Also when factor in the timing of this storm; it might be even worse than Joplin
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KFOR met just said "most destructive tornado in the history of the world."
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Quoting 1900hurricane:
It almost seems like meteorological blasphemy to say this, but some of this damage appears even worse than the 1999 tornado.


This may be new the benchmark for massive tornado destruction along with ones such as the Joplin tornado. My prayers go out for those affected by the storms. I cringe at just the thought of what these people just went through and still have to go through.
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Garvin County - Paul's Valley under the gun
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About JeffMasters

Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.