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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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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I don't think there's any question it's on par with those oth
Quoting Jedkins01:


It's too early to say the very worst tornado, but you however are displaying other extreme and dismissing an extremely violent tornado.


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).
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Stu Ostro ‏@StuOstro
Extreme hook echo, debris ball, & 3-D rotation of the #Moore #Oklahoma #tornado My thoughts r w/those affected :(
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http://kfor.com/on-air/live-streaming/#ooid=xha3JkN Dob-DtufEX1a5Rh4EkV6gVnRW
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52257
Same here TA. Do you want to go into the Weather Chat? :) Scary... I hope everyone is okay.
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Large tornado on the ground.

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Quoting AussieStorm:

No, I heard it also. Student were told to hold onto the walls and a teacher lay across 3 students and that teacher may not make it they are that badly hurt.
That was a bad information. K-3 still missing.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 23 Comments: 7460
Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Won't even come close.

Xenia, Tri-state, Tuscaloosa...

I could go on and on.


I agree that people shouldn't be making claims like the worst tornado at this point, but you however are displaying other extreme and dismissing an extremely violent tornado.

Also, isn't it a a bit morbid to argue over its intensity right now? This is horrible and bickering over the specifics right now is just wrong.
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Quoting AussieStorm:

No, I heard it also. Student were told to hold onto the walls and a teacher lay across 3 students and that teacher may not make it they are that badly hurt.
If you read Blue did retract the statement as it was false. Kids are still missing.
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msnbc saying grades k-3 still missing at one elementary school.
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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Where did you hear this?

Edit: Yeah I think you misunderstood what they said.

No, I heard it also. Student were told to hold onto the walls and a teacher lay across 3 students and that teacher may not make it they are that badly hurt.
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We won't know the full extent of this storm until later on. There could be hundreds dead or only a handful dead. This reminds me most of the Joplin tornado.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Won't even come close.

Xenia, Tri-state, Tuscaloosa...

I could on and on.


I doubt that it won't be on pair with some of those tornadoes, especially if it turns out to be an EF-5. I think that calling it the "worst tornado of all time" is quite premature however.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:


Won't even come close.

Xenia, Tri-state, Tuscaloosa...

I could go on and on.
Could defiantly be worse then Tuscaloosa and Xenia. Hit early in the day.
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This is what left of Plaza Towers Elementary...

Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 23 Comments: 7460
This is horrific, yes the prelim is EF4 but there are regions where entire regions of buildings were leveled and honestly the only time I've seen that which I can think of right now was the Joplin MO EF5...

The damage is so brutal it will take a long time to report any possible fatalities, injuries and missing people similar to how long it took with Joplin and in Alabama.
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Mile-Wide Tornado Devastates Oklahoma City Suburb

Authorities say an elementary school in an Oklahoma City suburb took a direct hit from a mile-wide tornado. Gary Knight with the Oklahoma City Police Department says there is no word of injuries from the elementary school.
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Developing rapidly. May drop a large one.

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Quoting txag91met:
This could be the most catastrophic tornado ever to hit the USA. Thoughts and prayers to people of OKC (Moore).



Won't even come close.

Xenia, Tri-state, Tuscaloosa...

I could go on and on.
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Link

Is that a hook near Brownwood Tx?
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Oh man. Eric Fox has a very large and low wall cloud. May have a tornado on it. Near Henrietta.
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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Where did you hear this?

Edit: Yeah I think you misunderstood what they said.
My bad. 4th to 6th grade is accounted for at Plaza Towers, though. MSNBC says.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 23 Comments: 7460
I'm sorry for posting the wrong information. Kids still missing at Plaza Towers Elementary. Other elementary school is accounted for. Reporter reporting the wrong information got blasted on Twitter.
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Quoting Bluestorm5:
ALL students is accounted for in BOTH elementary schools in Moore. This is very good news.
Where did you hear this?

Edit: Yeah I think you misunderstood what they said.

Edit2: So I see you got it from twitter. Got to be careful with twitter sources.
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Nvm.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 23 Comments: 7460
Quoting hydrus:
CNN said 30 children pulled from school alive that took shelter in a hallway. They believe there were 75 total people in the school at the time the tornado hit.. I am hoping they are just inaccessible, and will be found alive.


TWC relaying KFOR Video Feed;
Oh God, KFOR reporting that kids that who were in the school were told to hang onto the walls when the tornado struck
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Henrietta storm is starting to really look dangerous. May drop a tornado soon.
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Quoting hydrus:
CNN said 30 children pulled from school alive that took shelter in a hallway. They believe there were 75 total people in the school at the time the tornado hit.. I am hoping they are just inaccessible, and will be found alive.
Nevermind.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 23 Comments: 7460
EDIT: Kids at one elementary school still missing. Reporter that reported that fact got blasted by people on Twitter.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52257
Quoting MrMixon:
Ugh, I'm not feeling good about the situation at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore...

Live stream of the search for survivors here - LINK
CNN said 30 children pulled from school alive that took shelter in a hallway. They believe there were 75 total people in the school at the time the tornado hit.. I am hoping they are just inaccessible, and will be found alive.
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Quoting Tribucanes:


Don't attack prayer. If you don't believe in it don't do it. Lots of people who lost loved ones today will be consoled to know many are thinking and praying for them. This is a tragedy, and if people want to pray for those affected please let them without saying it's worthless. To backhandedly demean those of us praying for those poor souls affected really has no place here. I won't push my religion on you, please allow me to pray.


Can't people pray without posting about it on a forum? I could've sworn this was a weather chat, not a church or prayer group
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Quoting Astrometeor:


This annihilation being more fresh in the head, yes, I would agree. Give time, then compare. But for now, time is of the essence to focus on the severe weather and to help out our neighbors, our friends, and our family.


I've been hearing some reports of a damage path up to 2.5 miles wide. Hard to believe that's possible.
(In all likelihood, it will prove to be something of an exaggeration, but still...)
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Your opinion. No need for a comment like that right now.
Quoting MississippiWx:


Your opinion. No need for a comment like that right now.
Quoting flsky:
"Thoughts" and "prayers" don't do a hell of a lot of good at this point...




Don't attack prayer. If you don't believe in it don't do it. Lots of people who lost loved ones today will be consoled to know many are thinking and praying for them. This is a tragedy, and if people want to pray for those affected please let them without saying it's worthless. To backhandedly demean those of us praying for those poor souls affected really has no place here. I won't push my religion on you, please allow me to pray.
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Ugh, I'm not feeling good about the situation at Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore...

(Initial reports are that at least 75 teachers and students were inside the school when the tornado hit).



Live stream of the search for survivors here - LINK
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ERIK FOX FILMING POSSIBLE TORNADO IN HENRIETTA
Link
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@JimCantore: Radio reports of people using social media asking for help to be dug out from rubble
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Does it seem that tornado threat is coming down some the cells are a mess right now. This is good though
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873. flsky
Tangible help is a bit more effective. Send donations in the coming days, for instance.


Quoting MississippiWx:


Your opinion. No need for a comment like that right now.
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Except for a couple of the storms in Texas, it looks like the tornado threat has diminished a bit.

Member Since: August 2, 2006 Posts: 45 Comments: 11556
One thing that might make this one worse than the 99 storm depends on the width of the two tornadoes.
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Oklahoma live TV saying no current tornado potential. Anything going on elsewhere?
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Quoting FlyingScotsman:
Channel 9 Reporter: "Having seen the devastation caused by the 1999 tornado, I have to say this far exceeds that. This is something like I've never seen before."


This annihilation being more fresh in the head, yes, I would agree. Give time, then compare. But for now, time is of the essence to focus on the severe weather and to help out our neighbors, our friends, and our family.
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 163 Comments: 52257
Channel 9 Reporter: "Having seen the devastation caused by the 1999 tornado, I have to say this far exceeds that. This is something like I've never seen before."
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All three confirmed dead is found at a 7/11 store.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 23 Comments: 7460
I've never seen a debris ball this big.
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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.