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May's 10 Worst Tornado Outbreaks

Nick Wiltgen
Published: May 1, 2013

1. May 3-4, 1999: Oklahoma's Biggest Outbreak

Tannen Maury/AFP/Getty Images

The destructive path of an F5 tornado traces through a subdivision in Moore, Okla., on May 5, 1999, two days after the monster tornado ripped through this area, killing 36 and injuring hundreds.

119 tornadoes | 47 deaths | 865 injuries | $2.4 billion

While parts of eight states were affected by this outbreak, its greatest fury was reserved for Oklahoma; it remains that state's worst tornado outbreak in history.

Sixty-one tornadoes touched down in the Sooner State, mostly on May 3, including the only F5 ever to strike Oklahoma City. This infamous tornado tracked from Bridge Creek into Moore, Del City, Midwest City and southern parts of Oklahoma City, taking 36 lives, injuring hundreds more, and damaging or destroying some 9,000 homes and apartments. It was America's first tornado to cause a billion dollars in losses.

The catastrophic interaction of an F5 tornado with a large metropolitan area could have had an even worse result had it not been for the efforts of the National Weather Service, which issued the first-ever "Tornado Emergency" to highlight the danger, and local television stations which followed the tornado via helicopter and broadcast the images on live TV to central Oklahomans as it approached from the southwest.

This tornado's parent supercell, "Storm A" in official government reports, produced 11 other tornadoes. "Storm B", a separate supercell, dropped an amazing 20 tornadoes in five hours, though just one of those produced a fatality.

Overall on the Forbes Index, this outbreak ranks #5, behind only the Palm Sunday 1965 outbreak, the outbreak of November 21-23, 1992, and the two Superoutbreaks mentioned at the start of this story.

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