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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They're saying that all of the pupils in one of the schools are accounted for.
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Quoting Stormchaser2007:
Local Storm Report by NWS OUN: Newcastle [Mcclain Co, OK] broadcast media reports TORNADO at 02:56 PM CDT -- lifted around 336 pm. estimated path length of 20 miles thru newcastle, moore, and south okc. preliminary damage rating of at least ef4.
They already gave it an rating so soon? I'm sure this will be updated to EF5 in next few days.
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---
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Preliminary rating of EF-4 in Moore.
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Local Storm Report by NWS OUN: Newcastle [Mcclain Co, OK] broadcast media reports TORNADO at 02:56 PM CDT -- lifted around 336 pm. estimated path length of 20 miles thru newcastle, moore, and south okc. preliminary damage rating of at least ef4.
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They just showed the school. There's nothing but metal frames left. Similar to damage to Joplin High School, maybe even worse.
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Quoting CarolinaHurricanes87:


Terrible situation, but it isn't realistic to cancel school every time there is a severe weather or tornado threat in this region of the country.


Also schools are a much safer area then homes are
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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.


Terrible situation, but it isn't realistic to cancel school every time there is a severe weather or tornado threat in this region of the country.
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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Moore storm is starting to recover. Rotation still needs to pick up but inflow notch is starting to form a dangerous looking hook echo.



its also pointed at Tulsa area
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Why does it matter? It's 2 children. And yes, it's Moore.

Already reported.
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Moore storm is starting to recover. Rotation still needs to pick up but inflow notch is starting to form a dangerous looking hook echo.
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Quoting MississippiWx:


Why does it matter? It's 2 children. And yes, it's Moore.
Saying Two children are dead is bad, but giving the ages just makes it much worse
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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.



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)
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Quoting MississippiWx:
Don't see how you could survive this above ground.

@nypost Vines from flattened neighborhood after OK tornado http: Link


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


Mississippi, is this from Moore; and also you could just said that two children dead please don't list the ages


Why does it matter? It's 2 children. And yes, it's Moore.
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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 calkevin77:


All I have to say is holy crap. That has to be one of the most defined hooks on radar I have ever seen. Thoughts and prayers to everyone in the path.
Quoting bigwes6844:
tornado coverage
Link


I just came on and wow, I'm a hard nut to crack, but am feeling bleak after watching that link. this really looks extra bad for a tornado. My dad and grandma were from OK, and my grandma said she would never move back after seeing a horrific tornado go through her neighborhood in Enid. Just speechless at this tornado. I admit part of why I like the UK, lack of severe mother nature. More power to those there.
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Don't see how you could survive this above ground.

@nypost Vines from flattened neighborhood after OK tornado http: Link
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This is horrible. Photos of Moore.

Link

Link
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Be careful what you wish for..
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Quoting JTDailyUpdate:
Anybody watching KFOR or CNN right now, they interviewing someone who rid out the tornado in a horse stall MY GOD


IKR
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Quoting MississippiWx:
4 year old and 3 month old dead.


Mississippi, is this from Moore; and also you could just said that two children dead please don't list the ages
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Anybody watching KFOR or CNN right now, they interviewing someone who rid out the tornado in a horse stall MY GOD
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Quoting MississippiWx:


I was just watching the one north of Tulsa. The chasers just moved locations, but there was definitely one on the ground.
Not talking about the one north of Tulsa. The warning I quoted was for Pauls Valley. You guys are getting a little to excited please read completely before posting.
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4 year old and 3 month old dead.
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Good god. It was at least a mile wide...
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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
I am looking at the live streams on the storm and I see nada.


I was just watching the one north of Tulsa. The chasers just moved locations, but there was definitely one on the ground.
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Quoting TropicalAnalystwx13:

There's a large tornado in progress on live streams...?
I am looking at the live streams on the storm and I see nada. Please pay attention. I am not talking about the storm north of Tulsa.
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Quoting wxchaser97:

I was doing lawn work in the near 90° heat(bad decision) and I got multiple phone calls from my dad telling me a large tornado hit the OKC area.
Well, when the storms first fired up, they weren't impressive and I was so tired from school so I decided to take my daily after school nap. I also decided to leave GRLevel3 running so I can get something if I missed it. I'm not really kicking myself for missing the event because nap was much needed.
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Storm reports so far and more to come.

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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Must have been a small tornado that lifted quickly. Reed said nothing was on the ground.

There's a large tornado in progress on live streams...?
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Quoting Thundercloud01221991:


the warning says its on the ground


* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
SOUTHEASTERN MCCLAIN COUNTY IN CENTRAL OKLAHOMA...
CENTRAL GARVIN COUNTY IN SOUTHERN OKLAHOMA...
SOUTH CENTRAL POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY IN CENTRAL OKLAHOMA...

* UNTIL 515 PM CDT

* AT 435 PM CDT...WEATHER SPOTTERS REPORTED A TORNADO 4 MILES WEST OF PAULS
VALLEY. DOPPLER RADAR SHOWED THIS TORNADO MOVING EAST AT 35 MPH.
Must have been a small tornado that lifted quickly. Reed said nothing was on the ground.
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That storm north of Tulsa has a tornado on the ground. Chasers have it live on TVN.
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Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Carl Parker of The Weather Channel just told Brian Norcross that he fears this may be "one of the worst tornadoes in American history." Norcross agreed.
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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
I don't think so.


the warning says its on the ground


* TORNADO WARNING FOR...
SOUTHEASTERN MCCLAIN COUNTY IN CENTRAL OKLAHOMA...
CENTRAL GARVIN COUNTY IN SOUTHERN OKLAHOMA...
SOUTH CENTRAL POTTAWATOMIE COUNTY IN CENTRAL OKLAHOMA...

* UNTIL 515 PM CDT

* AT 435 PM CDT...WEATHER SPOTTERS REPORTED A TORNADO 4 MILES WEST OF PAULS
VALLEY. DOPPLER RADAR SHOWED THIS TORNADO MOVING EAST AT 35 MPH.
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AccuWeather.com‏@breakingweather2 min
Police confirm at 4:38 p.m. CDT: Large tornado on the ground in Nowata County, OK will cross highway169 just south of Nowatta.
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When I went to take a nap two hours go when the storms first fired up, I left GRLevel3 running in event of something major happening (which it did) and I went back to a hour ago...

Wow...

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This is beyond horrific, there was tons of ground scorching and debarked trees per KFOR's television cameras. I honestly think this was an EF-5 tornado at this point. Many well structured buildings were reduced to slabs, including a Target.
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Quoting Thundercloud01221991:


its on the ground now
I don't think so. Not quite there with the rotation and organization but I have no tornado reports.
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Member Since: July 21, 2011 Posts: 83 Comments: 7167
Reports of 3rd graders being pulled from one of the destroyed elementary schools in Moore, Oklahoma.
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live tornado coverage
Link
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Cell SE of Breckenridge, TX looks like it may want to do something too.
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SRSO Loop
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Quoting Luisport:
AccuWeather.com‏@breakingweather3 min
RT @nwsnorman: 431pm - TORNADO just west of Meeker!! Take Cover Now!!! #okwx


north of meeker now
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Quoting hurricanehunter27:
Pauls Valley storm is consolidating its circulation. May drop something soon.


its on the ground now
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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).

I was doing lawn work in the near 90° heat(bad decision) and I got multiple phone calls from my dad telling me a large tornado hit the OKC area.
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Member Since: April 30, 2013 Posts: 5 Comments: 4316
Sorry if this has already been posted, but the NWS in Norman already has a preliminary track for the Moore Tornado.
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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.