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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Quoting nervouspete:

This is horrible. I wasn't even paying attention today figuring it'd be a small event day. I finish tea, log on to check my emails and come across this. Transatlantic thoughts with you guys. I can't even conceive how we'd react if one of these dropped on the UK.

Can I ask where the Mike Bettes stream is? I can't remember who he's with, but I've seen him before and he's a good man.

Fingers crossed for the schools.


I concur these thoughts from across the other side of the Pacific.

Stream here
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@MikeJenkinsTV Mike Jenkins
Catastrophic damage in Moore, OK
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This is horrible. I wasn't even paying attention today figuring it'd be a small event day. I finish tea, log on to check my emails and come across this. Transatlantic thoughts with you guys. I can't even conceive how we'd react if one of these dropped on the UK.

Can I ask where the Mike Bettes stream is? I can't remember who he's with, but I've seen him before and he's a good man.

Fingers crossed for the schools.
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Quoting louisianaboy444:


Why did they lower the wind speeds so much on the enhanced scale? It is so much easier to get an EF5 now days than it was to get an F5 years ago...even on the old scale this tornado would still be a weak F4 probably

They were too high to begin with. Very seldom do we get recorded tornadoes with winds greater than 261 mph, which is what the threshold of an F5 was. And it doesn't take 261 mph winds to cause F5 damage (debarked trees, ripped/uprooted pavement, ground scouring, leveled buildings, etc)...it only takes approximately 200 mph.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Yep, KFOR reporting NWS says winds were over 200 mph. Looks like we've got an EF5.

I have severe doubts that the NWS office has stated that winds were over 200mph at the surface by this point. Far too early. It took days with specialized teams to rate the higher-end tornadoes of the 2011 outbreak. Rating a tornado EF5 is not taken lightly by the NWS. Be skeptical of people jumping to conclusions this early.
Member Since: September 28, 2002 Posts: 5 Comments: 3226
Quoting louisianaboy444:


Why did they lower the wind speeds so much on the enhanced scale? It is so much easier to get an EF5 now days than it was to get an F5 years ago...even on the old scale this tornado would still be a weak F4 probably
Because studies found the old wind speeds to be overestimating reality. The Enhanced Fujita scale is more accurate. The damage indicators are still the same I believe, so an F-4 then should be an EF-4 now.
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Quoting louisianaboy444:


Why did they lower the wind speeds so much on the enhanced scale? It is so much easier to get an EF5 now days than it was to get an F5 years ago...even on the old scale this tornado would still be a weak F4 probably
Serious flaw in Fujita scale, that's why. Old winds were meant for whole tornado, while new winds were meant for GROUND level. Tornado rarely goes over 200+ mph on ground. All EF5 tornadoes got winds from 250 mph to 300 mph high up at tornado, but not at ground. This would've been F5 in old scale.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8041
Quoting ScottLincoln:

That is a preliminary rating subject to change based upon an actual survey and rating. And that preliminary rating has little to do with path length and width estimates, which again, are notoriously incorrect.

A tornado of this magnitude near the heart of our severe weather experts will be heavily studied and scrutinized. Those findings should be trusted an order of magnitude more than these preliminary estimates.


I'm fully aware of that as I noted exactly such earlier. I will note though that is just based on helicopter and ground photos alone, which is something I've found rare for the NWS to jump on so quickly with a prelim. rating.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
He's already beginning to get choked up.


I'm starting to get choked up! Ugh I could not even imagine. The worst I get is a 70mph in a t-storm :(
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


The NWS has already rated it at least an EF-4, so we'll see.

That is a preliminary rating subject to change based upon an actual survey and rating. And that preliminary rating has little to do with path length and width estimates, which again, are notoriously incorrect.

A tornado of this magnitude near the heart of our severe weather experts will be heavily studied and scrutinized. Those findings should be trusted an order of magnitude more than these preliminary estimates.
Member Since: September 28, 2002 Posts: 5 Comments: 3226
Quoting louisianaboy444:


Why did they lower the wind speeds so much on the enhanced scale? It is so much easier to get an EF5 now days than it was to get an F5 years ago...even on the old scale this tornado would still be a weak F4 probably

I don't have all the specifics, but my guess is that they researched and found that the damage couldn't really even get much greater than 200 MPH winds. In other words, total obliteration is total obliteration...whether it's 200mph, 300mph or 1,000mph. I think they base it off the damage it does to trees, structures, etc....and 200mph is practically the worst.
Member Since: April 16, 2013 Posts: 27 Comments: 3168
Quoting louisianaboy444:


Why did they lower the wind speeds so much on the enhanced scale? It is so much easier to get an EF5 now days than it was to get an F5 years ago...even on the old scale this tornado would still be a weak F4 probably
Not how it works. The same amount of damage is needed as back then but the NWS believes that the winds corresponding with an EF5 are less.
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@Jeff_Piotrowski: Calling for all Storm chasers need massive help in Moore area. People trapped all over The damage area.#okwx
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Two tornadoes reported to be on ground in Texas now.
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Quoting Jedkins01:


Well the Joplin Hospital did not actually sustain a direct hit the core of the damage was off to its side.

So true, Jed. The Joplin Hospital was not in the core of the EF5 windfield. Assuming this preliminary call stands as a EF4, The Moore Medical Center was much closer to the heart of the twister.

Member Since: April 16, 2013 Posts: 27 Comments: 3168
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
He's already beginning to get choked up.

Brings back to many terrible memories of being one of the first people to witness the devastation left behind by the Joplin tornado. Poor guy.
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AP Photo: A woman carries her child through a field near the collapsed Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, OK
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Yep, KFOR reporting NWS says winds were over 200 mph. Looks like we've got an EF5.


Why did they lower the wind speeds so much on the enhanced scale? It is so much easier to get an EF5 now days than it was to get an F5 years ago...even on the old scale this tornado would still be a weak F4 probably
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Bettes comparing it to Joplin tornado.
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Red Cross Oklahoma ‏@redcrossokc
UPDATE:
Shelter opening at:
St. Andrews Church, SW 119 & S May. Location will also serve as reunification site.
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Quoting SouthernIllinois:
You remember the damage to the Joplin Hospital? Well from what I'm hearing, that dwarfs what went on over at the Moore Medical Center 3 hours ago. Just devastating. And that picture of the nursing home... I have no words for this.


Well the Joplin Hospital did not actually sustain a direct hit the core of the damage was off to its side.
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He's already beginning to get choked up.
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Mike Bettes in EF5 damage area on TWC now.
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Mike Bettes is reporting live from Moore.
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Rozel, Kansas tornado from two days ago has been upgraded from an EF2 to an EF3. Still preliminary.

MAXIMUM EF-SCALE RATING: POSSIBLY STRONGER THAN EF3
FATALITIES: NONE
INJURIES: NONE
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Four dead at 4th Street and Telephone Rd. That's a couple blocks south of Main Street. Judging by that, the damage scope of this was at least a mile wide. At least.
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
That was a bad information. K-3 still missing.


I have CNN on here and they have it as a bottom of the screen headline.
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You remember the damage to the Joplin Hospital? Well from what I'm hearing, that dwarfs what went on over at the Moore Medical Center 3 hours ago. Just devastating. And that picture of the nursing home... I have no words for this.
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Yep, KFOR reporting NWS says winds were over 200 mph. Looks like we've got an EF5.
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Quoting CybrTeddy:


The NWS has already rated it at least an EF-4, so we'll see.


They probably have a TV tuned to the news so they can watch the storms. Someone decided to put out a bulletin stating the NWS's informal and unofficial, but early opinion on storm.
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Tornadicane.

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It is one thing when these monsters are swirling up dust and silt on the Plains in a sparely populated area, but to see this EF4 (and probably EF5 in some spots) cut a path through literally the heart of a large town (55,342) is utterly gut-wrenching.
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Quoting Ameister12:
Good god. It was at least a mile wide...

Maybe. Some of that is likely rainfall.
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Just heard reports of driveways ripped up—that'll be EF5 damage.
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NWS confirming winds were over 200mph via KFOR.
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Moore, Oklahoma Tornado from May 20, 2013....Oh my gosh..It's a beast
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CRAWFORD KS-BARTON MO-
552 PM CDT MON MAY 20 2013

...A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT FOR BARTON AND EASTERN
CRAWFORD COUNTIES UNTIL 615 PM CDT...

AT 547 PM CDT...A SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO
WAS LOCATED NEAR FRONTENAC...AND MOVING EAST AT 60 MPH.

HAZARD...DEVELOPING TORNADO.

SOURCE...RADAR INDICATED ROTATION. THE PITTSBURG AIRPORT OBSERVED
SEVERAL LARGE TREES BLOWN OVER.

IMPACT...MOBILE HOMES WILL BE HEAVILY DAMAGED OR DESTROYED.
SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE TO ROOFS...WINDOWS AND VEHICLES WILL
OCCUR. FLYING DEBRIS WILL BE DEADLY TO PEOPLE AND ANIMALS.
EXTENSIVE TREE DAMAGE IS LIKELY.

LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE...
ARCADIA...ARMA...FRONTENAC...GOLDEN CITY...LAMAR...LIBERAL...
MINDENMINES...MULBERRY...PITTSBURG AND VERDELLA.

THIS WARNING ALSO INCLUDES PRAIRIE STATE PARK.
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Quoting ScottLincoln:

It is far too early to be trusting any of these preliminary width, length, and intensity estimates. Far too early. Tornado width estimates are notoriously overestimated during realtime events. Almost always.
We will eventually know the scope of the tornado's damage. No need to speculate now.


The NWS has already rated it at least an EF-4, so we'll see.
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A few kids have been pulled out of Plaza Tower Elementary. A little bit of great news in a dark day.
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These overhead views are catastrophic.

Link
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BULLETIN - EAS ACTIVATION REQUESTED
TORNADO WARNING
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE NORMAN OK
557 PM CDT MON MAY 20 2013

THE NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE IN NORMAN HAS ISSUED A

* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
EXTREME NORTHERN MARSHALL COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST OKLAHOMA...
EAST CENTRAL CARTER COUNTY IN SOUTHERN OKLAHOMA...
JOHNSTON COUNTY IN SOUTHEAST OKLAHOMA...

* UNTIL 645 PM CDT

* AT 554 PM CDT...NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE METEOROLOGISTS DETECTED A
SEVERE THUNDERSTORM CAPABLE OF PRODUCING A TORNADO. THIS DANGEROUS
STORM WAS LOCATED 5 MILES NORTHWEST OF MANNSVILLE...AND MOVING EAST
AT 45 MPH.

IN ADDITION TO A TORNADO...LARGE DAMAGING HAIL UP TO TWO INCHES IN
DIAMETER IS EXPECTED WITH THIS STORM.

* LOCATIONS IMPACTED INCLUDE...
TISHOMINGO...DICKSON...MANNSVILLE...RAVIA...MILBUR N...FILLMORE...
REAGAN AND RUSSETT.
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Quoting FlyingScotsman:
I don't think there's any question it's on par with those oth

I don't think there's any doubt this is in the same league as those. The 1999 was the benchmark for "worst tornado ever" until Joplin, and there seems to be a solid consensus among the crews in Moore that this matches the 1999 in terms of intensity of destruction, and is 3X as great in scale (due to greater width).

It is far too early to be trusting any of these preliminary width, length, and intensity estimates. Far too early. Tornado width estimates are notoriously overestimated during realtime events. Almost always.
We will eventually know the scope of the tornado's damage. No need to speculate now.
Member Since: September 28, 2002 Posts: 5 Comments: 3226
Quoting flsky:
Anyone hear from Cantore? I know he was chasing in that area yesterday. They haven't mentioned him on TWC.
He and Reed Timmer intercepted Edmond tornado. Jim Cantore tweeted he was on way to Moore.
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Quoting flsky:
Anyone hear from Cantore? I know he was chasing in that area yesterday. They haven't mentioned him on TWC.


He is on air right now
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This is hard to watch and listen to. I can only imagine what the population of Moore is going through. I've got a young daughter and can only imagine the horror of finding she's missing after a F5. This is epic in scope. Heart of the damage, you either got away, got to a tornado bunker, or probably didn't make it. Looks like even basements were of little good in the heart of the devastation.
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Alert for folks in Southeast Oklahoma City

Do NOT use tap water for now. The water treatment plant has lost power or been damaged.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Won't even come close.

Xenia, Tri-state, Tuscaloosa...

I could go on and on.
Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Won't even come close.

Xenia, Tri-state, Tuscaloosa...

I could go on and on.


txag91 said "this could be". Plus none of us really know what is going on there right now. What I can see it looks worse than Joplin damage wise. Why don't we all just wait before we make predictions of what tornadoes were worse. I'm sure the people in Moore think this is one of the most catastrophic tornadoes. let's just all keep our fingers crossed that it actually doesn't end up being like one of those past tornadoes. But three hours after the nado hit is a little to early to say!
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Too much like Joplin. I remember them saying this morning that the atmosphere was going to be unstable, but I think that it has turned out to be much worse than they might have previously thought. Reminds me of the way it was for the 2011 April outbreak, just stuff exploding everywhere.

And to think that people on this blog were complaining on how "crumby" this tornado season was just a couple/few weeks ago....
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Met on KFOR livestream estimating 30 sq. mi. of damage from Moore tornado. Reporter says she helped pull four bodies from 7-11 near medical centre.
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maybe not worse than Joplin in terms of numbers of lives, but at this point if you consider number of missing children concentrated in direct hit area it is equally horrific. and what about the hospital hit? how can you measure devastation at this level?
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913. flsky
Anyone hear from Cantore? I know he was chasing in that area yesterday. They haven't mentioned him on TWC.
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Jeff co-founded the Weather Underground in 1995 while working on his Ph.D. He flew with the NOAA Hurricane Hunters from 1986-1990.

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