Moore Tornado an EF-5; $2 Billion Damage Estimate: 3rd Costliest Tornado in History

By: Dr. Jeff Masters , 3:22 PM GMT on May 22, 2013

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The Moore, Oklahoma tornado of May 20, 2013 is now ranked an EF-5, making it one of only 59 U.S. tornadoes to achieve that distinction since record keeping began in 1950. The National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma announced Tuesday that their damage survey teams found an area of EF-5 damage near Briarwood Elementary School, with winds of 200 - 210 mph indicated. There were no EF-5 tornadoes observed in 2012, and the last time the U.S. had an EF-5 was on May 24, 2011, when the Oklahoma towns of Calumet, El Reno, Piedmont, and Guthrie were hit by an EF-5 with 210+ mph winds that killed nine people. The maximum width of the 2013 Moore tornado's damage swath was a huge 1.3 miles. Detailed damage survey information in Google Earth Format provided by the Norman, OK NWS office shows that the typical width of the EF-0 and greater damage swath was about 0.6 miles, and the EF-4 damage area was about 0.1 miles across at its widest. EF-4 damage occurred along approximately 4 miles of the tornado's 17-mile long path. The damage swath from the May 20, 2013 tornado as it cut through the most densely built up portions of Moore was roughly 1.5 times as wide as the one from the May 3, 1999 EF-5 tornado. That tornado was the 4th costliest in history ($1.4 billion 2011 dollars), so it is a good bet that the 2013 Moore tornado will end up being even more expensive. This morning, the Oklahoma Insurance Department said the preliminary tornado damage estimate could top $2 billion. This would make the 2013 Moore tornado the 2nd most expensive tornado in history (as ranked by NOAA/SPC) or 3rd most expensive (as ranked by insurance broker Aon Benfield.) The nine billion-dollar tornadoes (2013 dollars) are:

1) Joplin, Missouri, May 22, 2011, $2.9 billion
2) Tuscaloosa, Alabama, April 27, 2011, $2.3 billion (not in SPC's list)
3) Moore, Oklahoma, May 20, 2013, $2 billion
4) Topeka, Kansas, June 8, 1966, $1.8 billion
5) Lubbock, Texas, May 11, 1970, $1.5 billion
6) Bridge Creek-Moore, Oklahoma, May 3, 1999, $1.4 billion
7) Hackleburg, Alabama, April 27, 2011, $1.3 billion (not in SPC's list)
8) Xenia, Ohio, April 3, 1974, $1.1 billion
9) Omaha, Nebraska, May 6, 1975, $1 billion

Figure 1. The Moore, Oklahoma tornado of May 20, 2013 (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

Figure 2. The damage swath of the Moore, Oklahoma tornado of May 20, 2013. EF-4 damage (red colors) occurred along roughly 4 miles of the 17-mile path, and the EF-4 damage swath was up to 0.1 miles wide. The tornado's maximum width of 1.3 miles (EF-0 and greater damage) occurred over a relatively small portion of the path, before the storm reached Moore. Image credit: NWS Norman.

Figure 3. On May 20, 2013, a supercell thunderstorm in central Oklahoma spawned a destructive tornado that passed just south of Oklahoma City. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite acquired this natural-color image of the storm system at 2:40 p.m. Central Daylight Time (19:40 Universal Time), just minutes before the devastating twister began. The red line on the image depicts the tornado’s track. Image credit: NASA Earth Observatory.

There have been bigger tornadoes
The 1.3 mile maximum width of the 2013 Moore tornado's damage swath was not a record. Wikipedia documents that the EF-3 Edmonson, Texas tornado of May 31, 1968 had a damage path width between 2 and 3 miles (3.2 and 4.8 km) wide. The EF-4 Wilber - Hallam, Nebraska tornado on May 22, 2004 was of similar size, with a damage path up to 2.5 miles wide. Doppler radar measurements indicate that the May 4, 1999 Mulhall, Oklahoma EF-4 tornado--which thankfully passed mostly over farmland--would have caused damage over a path 4 miles wide at its peak size, had it encountered a built-up area. The EF-5 tornado that devastated Greensburg, Kansas on May 4, 2007 was 1.7 miles wide.

Figure 4. Damage swath of the Wilber - Hallam, Nebraska EF-4 tornado of May 22, 2004 was up to 2.5 miles wide, making it one of the largest tornadoes on record.

Figure 5. Severe weather outlook for Wednesday, May 22, calls for a "Slight Risk" of severe weather over portions of the Ohio Valley and Northeast U.S. You can follow today's severe weather from our Severe Weather page.

No tornadoes reported on Tuesday; "Slight Risk" of severe weather on Wednesday
The severe weather outbreak of May 18 - 22 peaked on Sunday and Monday. We did not record any tornadoes on Tuesday, though there were many reports of large hail and damaging winds, including three thunderstorms with wind gusts over 74 mph. Tuesday was the first day since May 14 that no tornadoes were recorded in the U.S. And after issuing four consecutive "Moderate Risk" outlooks for severe weather, NOAA's Storm Prediction Center (SPC) is going with only a "Slight Risk" for severe weather on Wednesday in the U.S., with the main severe weather action expected to affect portions of the Ohio Valley and Northeast U.S. The primary threat will be straight-line wind damage and large hail, though we can't rule out a few tornadoes. During the three-day period May 18 - May 20, 70 tornadoes (preliminary) were recorded by SPC.

Video 1. Charles Cook caught the birth of the May 20, 2013 tornado at Newcastle, OK. It moved from there to Moore where it caused catastrophic devastation.

Video 2. NOAA's GOES-East satellite collected this view of the storm system that spawned a deadly tornado over Moore, Oklahoma on May 20, 2013. The animation runs from 10:45 a.m. through 6:45 p.m., Central Daylight Time. Images courtesy NASA GOES Project Science: ‪‬

The Norman, OK NWS office has an excellent page with detailed info on the Moore tornado.

I did a 10-minute Skype interview with on Tuesday morning, discussing the Moore tornado.

I greatly appreciate all the valuable links members of the WU community have posted here, and I have used many of them in my posts over the past day. Keep up the great work!

How to help
Portlight Strategies, an organization that supports disaster victims with disabilities, will be working with shelter operators and disability stakeholder organizations in Oklahoma to serve the needs of people with disabilities. Further information and how to offer additional support can be found on their website.

Donations can be made to American Red Cross disaster relief at or by texting WEATHER to 90999 to donate $10.

Donations can be made on The Salvation Army's website or by texting STORM to 80888 to donate $10. You can also call to make donations of other monetary amounts at (800) 725-2769.

Jeff Masters

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A strong solar flare measuring M7.3 was observed on Wednesday morning. The eruption was centered around Sunspot 1745.

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The pictures of the catastrophic damage. I can never image what those poor folks must have been going through.

The second costliest tornado to strike. And what a monster it was. Simply incredible.
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Dr. Masters, what about the 2011 Tuscaloosa tornado? That caused $2.2 billion in damages.
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Statement as of 11:33 AM EDT on May 22, 2013
The National Weather Service in Binghamton has issued a

* Severe Thunderstorm Warning for...
northwestern Broome County in central New York...
southeastern Cortland County in central New York...
northern Tioga County in central New York...
southeastern Tompkins County in central New York...

* until 12:15 PM EDT.
* At 11:27 am EDT... National Weather Service Doppler radar indicated a
severe thunderstorm capable of producing quarter size hail... and
damaging winds in excess of 60 mph. This storm was located near
Spencer... and moving east at 30 mph.

* The severe thunderstorm will be near...
Willseyville by 11:37 am EDT...
Candor by 11:36 am EDT...
Newark Valley by 11:42 am EDT...
Berkshire by 11:44 am EDT...
Nanticoke by 11:56 am EDT...
Maine and NWS Binghamton by 12:04 PM EDT...

When you can do so safely... please report hail... or damaging winds to
the National Weather Service by calling toll free at
1-888-603-1402... or by email at bgm.Stormreport@noaa.Gov.

Precautionary/preparedness actions...

If you are in the path of this storm... seek shelter indoors and stay
away from windows!

Lat... Lon 4250 7592 4232 7584 4225 7584 4225 7583
4225 7582 4209 7575 4214 7650 4229 7654
time... Mot... loc 1517z 260deg 25kt 4221 7643

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Link M7.3 Flare
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The Moore tornado seems to have been almost as destructive to property as the Joplin tornado, yet casualties were far less. The Joplin tornado killed 162 people. Seems odd.
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Slow moving storm.
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Thanks for the update,
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Thanks Doc! It is still hard to comprehend the amount of damage to Moore City
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Thanks for the post! I really hope this rain comes to the Panhandle. They still have 20-30% chance of rain though, but we haven't got rain for a week and a half! Things here are getting fried already.
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More on that tornado.
A giant tornado, a mile wide or more, killed at least 51 people as it tore across parts of Oklahoma City and its suburbs Monday afternoon, flattening homes, flinging cars through the air and crushing at least two schools packed with children. As the injured began flooding into hospitals, the authorities said many people remained trapped, even as rescue workers were struggling to make their way through debris-clogged streets to the devastated suburb of Moore, where much of the damage occurred. Amy Elliott, the spokeswoman for the Oklahoma City medical examiner, said at least 51 people had died, and officials said that toll was likely to climb. Local hospitals reported at least 145 people injured, 70 of them children. Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore was reduced to a pile of twisted metal and toppled walls, and on Monday evening rescue workers were still struggling to tear through rubble amid reports that dozens of students were trapped. At Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City, on the border with Moore, cars were thrown through the facade and the roof was torn off.

"Numerous neighborhoods were completely leveled," Sgt. Gary Knight of the Oklahoma City Police Department said by telephone. "Neighborhoods just wiped clean." He said debris and damage to roadways, along with heavy traffic, were hindering emergency responders as they raced to the affected areas. A spokeswoman for the mayor's office in Moore said emergency workers were struggling to assess the damage. "Please send us your prayers," she said. Brooke Cayot, a spokeswoman for Integris Southwest Medical Center in Oklahoma City, said 58 patients had come in by about 9 p.m. Another 85 were being treated at Oklahoma University Medical Center in Oklahoma City. "They've been coming in minute by minute," Ms. Cayot said.

Keli Pirtle, a spokeswoman for the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., said the tornado touched down at 2:56 p.m., 16 minutes after the first warning went out, and traveled for 20 miles. It was on the ground for 40 minutes, she said. It struck the town of Newcastle and traveled about 10 miles to Moore, a populous suburb of Oklahoma City. Ms. Pirtle said preliminary data suggested that it was a Category 4 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita scale, which measures tornado strength on a scale of 0 to 5. A definitive assessment will not be available until Tuesday, she said. Moore was the scene of another huge tornado, in May 1999, in which winds reached record speeds of 302 m.p.h. Television on Monday showed destruction spread over a vast area, with blocks upon blocks of homes and businesses destroyed. Residents, some partly clothed and apparently caught by surprise, were shown picking through rubble. Several structures were on fire, and cars had been tossed around, flipped over and stacked on top of each other.

Kelcy Trowbridge, her husband and their three young children piled into their neighbor's cellar just outside of Moore and huddled together for about five minutes, wrapped under a blanket as the tornado screamed above them, debris smashing against the cellar door. They emerged to find their home flattened and the family car resting upside down a few houses away. Ms. Trowbridge's husband rushed toward what was left of their home and began sifting through the debris, then stopped, and told her to call the police. He had found the body of a little girl, about 2 or 3 years old, Ms. Trowbridge said. "He knew she was already gone," Ms. Trowbridge said. "When the police got there, he just bawled." The storm system continued to churn through the region on Monday afternoon, and forecasters warned that new tornadoes could form.

An earlier storm system also spawned several tornadoes across Oklahoma on Sunday. Several deaths were reported. Russell Schneider, the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the risk of tornadoes throughout the region remained high going into Tuesday. Some parts of Moore emerged seeming untouched by the tornado. Bea Carruth, who lives about 20 blocks from where the storm struck, said her home and others in her neighborhood appeared to be fine. Ms. Carruth had ridden out the tornado as she usually does, at her son's house nearby, the hail pounding away on the cellar where they had taken shelter. Tornadoes have long been a part of life in Moore, she said, and a few times a year, in a well-worn ritual, she goes into her son's cellar when the sirens go off. In 1999, the last time a storm this size struck, Ms. Carruth again was lucky and the home she lived in then was spared. She ended up buying an empty plot of land where a house destroyed by that tornado once stood. Her house now sits on that plot.

Scientists concluded the storm was a rare and extraordinarily powerful type of twister known as an EF5, ranking it at the top of the scale used to measure tornado strength. Those twisters are capable of lifting reinforced buildings off the ground, hurling cars like missiles and stripping trees completely free of bark. Residents of Moore began returning to their homes a day after the tornado smashed some neighborhoods into jagged wood scraps and gnarled pieces of metal. In place of their houses, many families found only empty lots. After nearly 24 hours of searching, the fire chief said he was confident there were no more bodies or survivors in the rubble. Authorities were so focused on the search effort that they had yet to establish the full scope of damage along the storm's long, ruinous path. They did not know how many homes were gone or how many families had been displaced. Emergency crews had trouble navigating devastated neighborhoods because there were no street signs left. Some rescuers used smartphones or GPS devices to guide them through areas with no recognizable landmarks. The death toll was revised downward from 51 after the state medical examiner said some victims may have been counted twice in the confusion. More than 200 people were treated at area hospitals. By Tuesday afternoon, every damaged home had been searched at least once, Bird said. His goal was to conduct three searches of each building just to be certain there were no more bodies or survivors. The fire chief was hopeful that could be completed before nightfall, but the work was being hampered by heavy rain. Crews also continued a brick-by-brick search of the rubble of a school that was blown apart with many children inside. No additional survivors or bodies have been found since Monday night, Bird said. At least 24 people were killed in the twister, including at least eight children. One of the most hard-hit buildings was Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore, where police spokesman Jeremy Lewis said seven children died under a collapsed wall. Another child was killed at Briarwood Elementary School in Oklahoma City.

Credit: RSOE EDIS, event broadcasting service.
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Reposting this because of new blog...

So... y'all remembered that Moore tornado was first reported as 2-mile wide tornado on news, right? That was because meteorologists tracking the storm said the debris ball on radar was 2 to 2.5 miles wide. Tornado end up being 1.3 mile wide (still a wide tornado). The reason for the debris ball being so wide on radar is that there were many debris flying around the main tornado rotation, making it look so wide on radar.

Also, I saw a comment that someone claimed that Moore tornado is the widest on record. Actually the truth is... Moore tornado is only half as wide as the widest tornado ever which came on this date 9 years ago today. On May 22, 2004, a tornado was born out an outbreak in Nebraska. F4 tornado then hit the town of Hallam, Nebraska around 8 pm at night. Tornado was at the widest point over Hallam at 2.5 miles wide.

Another famous wide tornado is EF5 that hit Greensburg, Kansas. That tornado was so wide that it was wider than the town itself and the whole town was destroyed. That tornado was 1.7 mile wide.
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Thanks, Dr.Masters.
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Thanks Doc!
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New orleans getting some rain.
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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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