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: Posts: Comments:
Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Storm over Henrietta TX is tornado warned and looks impressive.

That cell pretty much absorbed the two around it.



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Quoting JTDailyUpdate:


Yeah, then you hear that the 75 kids and staff members were in the schools hallway when it hit;


man, you never know. i lived through the 1990 plainfield F5. that bad boy leveled the local high school. the kids in football and volleyball practice took cover in a hallway, which ended up being the only hallway in the school left standing. the rest of the school was reduced to rubble. as was the rest of the town.
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Truth. Strongest tornado in history (at least that was officially recorded).


Yeah but that speed is just the upper estimate of the tornadic wind speed; the DOW actually measured a wind speed of 301 +/- 20 mph
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Henrietta TX has a tornado forming directly over it!
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
Moore, OK tornado at least an EF-4 winds atleast 200mph @ABCWorldNews

Wonder if he meant up to 200 mph or if he really did mean 200 mph.
max wind 220 mph at peak i reckon as bad as bad can be
Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55671
Just got back home from school.....the news from Moore makes me sick, especially given my experience with tornadoes and schools.



Watch Issuance at 80%

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Dryline is very sharp.

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Quoting bluenosedave:


According to one article I've read, that 1999 tornado had the highest winds ever recorded near the Earth's surface. Link
Because DOW measured the winds high up in tornado, not at surface. I think EF5s in Alabama, Mississippi, and Missouri would've gotten the winds that strong high up in tornado.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8046
Storm over Henrietta TX is tornado warned and looks impressive.
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What amazes me is that the tornado was so wide and yet produced such strong winds. Conservation of angular momentum. Just a massive amount of energy with this beast.
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Quoting bluenosedave:


According to one article I've read, that 1999 tornado had the highest winds ever recorded near the Earth's surface. Link


This from The World Record Academy:

A wind gust of 318 mph was measured by Doppler radar during a tornado in Moore, Oklahoma, in 1999. However, Doppler records are not considered official.
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Wow.... I must have stepped out less than 30 min before this hit!

Yesterday was bad enough....

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Quoting bluenosedave:


According to one article I've read, that 1999 tornado had the highest winds ever recorded near the Earth's surface. Link


Truth. Strongest tornado in history (at least that was officially recorded).
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Member Since: July 15, 2006 Posts: 176 Comments: 55671
My god... total devastation.

Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8046
Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:
As said, the NWS has given the tornado a preliminary rating of an EF4.

They haven't even deployed a team yet.


I wonder if they got a DOW reading from the storm
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Quoting MississippiWx:


According to one article I've read, that 1999 tornado had the highest winds ever recorded near the Earth's surface. Link
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Moore, OK tornado at least an EF-4 winds atleast 200mph @ABCWorldNews

Wonder if he meant up to 200 mph or if he really did mean 200 mph.
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Quoting flsky:
"Thoughts" and "prayers" don't do a hell of a lot of good at this point...




Your opinion. No need for a comment like that right now.
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Quoting txag91met:

Because it is tornadic.

I sure is, or at least was earlier.

SEVERE WEATHER STATEMENT
NATIONAL WEATHER SERVICE SAN ANGELO TX
458 PM CDT MON MAY 20 2013

TXC049-202215-
/O.CON.KSJT.TO.W.0008.000000T0000Z-130520T2215Z/
BROWN TX-
458 PM CDT MON MAY 20 2013

...A TORNADO WARNING REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 515 PM CDT FOR CENTRAL
BROWN COUNTY...

AT 457 PM CDT... A TORNADO WAS CONFIRMED! THIS TORNADO WAS LOCATED
NEAR OWENS...OR 11 MILES NORTH OF EARLY...MOVING EAST AT 15 MPH.

STORM HAZARDS INCLUDE...
DANGEROUS TORNADIC WINDS.
HALF DOLLAR SIZE HAIL.
DESTRUCTIVE WINDS IN EXCESS OF 70 MPH.

WITH POSSIBLE STORM IMPACTS...
OVERTURNED VEHICLES...
DAMAGE TO TREES...SOME MAY BE UPROOTED...
DAMAGE TO HOMES...MAY DESTROY MANUFACTURED HOMES...
VEHICLE DINGS...
MINOR DAMAGE TO ROOFS...
SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE TO TREE LIMBS...
SOME TREES MAY BE BLOWN DOWN...
SHEDS TOPPLED...
ROOF DAMAGE TO MANUFACTURED HOMES...
EXTENSIVE POWER OUTAGES...

THE TORNADO WILL BE NEAR...
BLANKET BY 515 PM CDT...

PRECAUTIONARY/PREPAREDNESS ACTIONS...

A TORNADO WATCH REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 1000 PM CDT MONDAY EVENING
FOR WEST CENTRAL TEXAS.

&&
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Moore storm is still trying to recover. May not happen.
Storm that past Pauls Vally is intensifying quickly.
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Here in Texas and what I've seen in Oklahoma - schools are built to very high standards for just this reason. These kids were likely safer at school than they would have been at home.


Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Thoughts and prayers to all affected by this historic tragedy.

I can't believe they let schools open today knowing there was a high risk of severe weather.
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Quoting FlyingScotsman:


It's unthinkably terrible that two schools got hit, but when you think about it, where could they have been safer? In most tornadoes, the school would've been safe, whereas homes wouldn't necessarily have been.

I know, if they let the students go home early and then the tornado struck; there would be much more deaths
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Quoting Catherdr:

Already reported.


Maybe check the context of a comment before going trigger happy with the report button.
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Miraculously, all kids accounted for alive at Briarwood Elementary School.

Hoping for the best now at Plaza Towers.
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This could be the most catastrophic tornado ever to hit the USA. Thoughts and prayers to people of OKC (Moore).

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As said, the NWS has given the tornado a preliminary rating of an EF4.

They haven't even deployed a team yet.
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Quoting cloudyboy:


to be fair, i don't think they would of expected the storms to start that early.


Actually, the weather forecasters here in OK were dead-on stating that the chance for severe storms/tornados would begin around 2 pm in the afternoon.

From their forecast yesterday.
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Quoting 1900hurricane:

I've been keeping an eye on that one. It's been tornado warned and has at least a mesocyclone with it.


Because it is tornadic.
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Time-lapse video of the tornado going through Moore.
FOX19.com-Cincinnati News, Weather
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832. flsky
"Thoughts" and "prayers" don't do a hell of a lot of good at this point...


Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Thoughts and prayers to all affected by this historic tragedy.

I can't believe they let schools open today knowing there was a high risk of severe weather.
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Watching what's going on in Moore make me sad because I teach elementary school kids PE activities everyday since February. Tomorrow is actually my last day teaching a class.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8046
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Quoting Thundercloud01221991:



I have noticed most of the time they dont close schools unless SPC put up a high risk of severe weather (which they should have) or a PDS tornado watch (which they should have)


It's unthinkably terrible that two schools got hit, but when you think about it, where could they have been safer? In most tornadoes, the school would've been safe, whereas homes wouldn't necessarily have been.
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I recorded a MXDV of about 194 knots in the circulation and due to the close proximity to the radar, I strongly believe that this was at least a 190-215 mph tornado

Wind rowing and ground/pavement scouring was evident
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Great,I'm in the moderate risk area for tomorrow. -_-
Member Since: September 2, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 30
Quoting MrMixon:
The system near Comanche, TX looks tornadic...


I've been keeping an eye on that one. It's been tornado warned and has at least a mesocyclone with it.

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Quoting MrMixon:
The system near Comanche, TX looks tornadic...

Thank god that storm is moving so slow. If it was moving faster good chance Dallas would be in a lot of danger.
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At least 3 people have been killed by the tornado. That number is expected to rise.
Member Since: August 9, 2009 Posts: 10 Comments: 5080
Quoting CybrTeddy:


I imagine when they actually get to go out there and inspect the damage they will find some pockets of EF-5 damage.


Probably more than just pockets. Not sure why they do a "prelim" anyway.
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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Thoughts and prayers to all affected by this historic tragedy.

I can't believe they let schools open today knowing there was a high risk of severe weather.


to be fair, i don't think they would of expected the storms to start that early.
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@NWSNorman 36m

Comparison between May 3 1999 and PRELIM May 20, 2013 tornado paths - #okwx pic.twitter.com/oDsgb4uZo4

------------------------------------------------- --

Look like this tornado paralleled the famous 1999 F5.
Member Since: August 1, 2011 Posts: 28 Comments: 8046
I have been glued to tv watching all evening and watched and just heard both schools were elementary schools.
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Quoting MississippiWx:
Preliminary rating of EF-4 in Moore.


I imagine when they actually get to go out there and inspect the damage they will find some pockets of EF-5 damage.
Member Since: July 8, 2005 Posts: 259 Comments: 24553
Quoting Bluestorm5:
They just showed the school. There's nothing but metal frames left. Similar to damage to Joplin High School, maybe even worse.


Hope this isn't worse than Joplin; but it makes it worse to hear that the school was occupied
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In a hour or two the storm north of Tulsa will approach Joplin.
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This is beyond tragic, I have to step away from these reports, too sad and tragic to understand!
Member Since: April 29, 2007 Posts: 0 Comments: 8134
The system near Comanche, TX looks tornadic...

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Quoting GeoffreyWPB:
Thoughts and prayers to all affected by this historic tragedy.

I can't believe they let schools open today knowing there was a high risk of severe weather.

Actually, the tornado threat issued by the SPC didn't even warrant a Moderate Risk today.

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They're saying that all of the pupils in one of the schools are accounted for.
Member Since: July 20, 2008 Posts: 0 Comments: 2994

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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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