21 May 2013

The Oklahoma Tornado: Some Facts and Pictures

Posted by Dan Satterfield

The deadly Moore,OKlahoma tornado crossing Sooner Road and SE 139th street in the Oklahoma City metro area.

First of all, this tornado was not the biggest and strongest tornado ever recorded on Earth, as one Oklahoma City weather-caster said. We don’t know the wind speeds yet, and until then it cannot be given an EF Scale rating. I’ve seen some things (on the video of the damage) that make it clear that this was very likely an EF 4, and I’ve seen one thing that makes me think it may be an EF 5. That really makes little difference except to science, and none at all to the victims.


Meteorologists positively CRINGE when a news anchor says the tornado hit with little warning. Let’s be clear here, the NWS in Norman issued a tornado warning on the storm 16 minutes BEFORE the twister touched down. This was 30 minutes before the tornado hit the main population area of Moore. My cousin lives just outside the path of devastation, and she had time to drive 5 miles to a family members storm shelter. The NWS costs Americans about a dime per month, and I think that is one hell of a bargain. The CNN anchor who implied there was no warning owes the meteorologists of the NWS in Norman an apology for saying that the tornado hit with little warning.

Video below is from the KWTV Chopper. The pilot was fighting an inflow of wind in the tornado of nearly 60 knots.

The Chief Meteorologist for KOCO TV, (Damon Lane) was tracking the tornado as it moved through the metro area. As he read off the streets in the path of the storm, he read off the street where he lived ,and where his wife and kids would normally be. He kept going. As he put it in a Facebook post afterwards “Reading the names of the streets in my neighborhood has never been so hard. In the moment I was running on adrenaline , looking back now it’s all a blur. I pray NONE of you ever have to go through this, yet I guess it’s all part of the paycheck.” 

With the one exception (I noted at the top of this post), the Oklahoma City media meteorologists did a superb job Monday afternoon. As Gary England the legendary meteorologist at KWTV told one reporter “Just tell me where you are and what you see” as the tornado roared through the metro area. I grew up watching Gary, and the tornadoes of June 8,1974 in Oklahoma City were primary reason I became a meteorologist. The cooperation fo the media meteorologists and the NWS forecasters without doubt caused the death toll to be much lower. It was still the deadliest tornado in over a century in Oklahoma.


In many areas of the country, schools are dismissed early on days when severe weather is expected. The Storm Prediction Center is now quite good at outlining the risk areas and when a Moderate or High risk is issued, it is certainly something that should be considered. I know there are some obvious problems with this, the storms could erupt early ,and kids would be vulnerable on buses etc.

Forecasters usually can predict this fairly well now and when a rare HIGH risk is issued, using a built-in “tornado” day would be a good idea. I am also very cognizant that the school is definitely a safer place for children who love in a mobile home. As one meteorologist put it today “If schools can afford multi million dollar football stadiums they can afford to build a safe room”

I completely agree. No, not everywhere and every school, but in high risk tornado alleys in the Plains and Deep South, YES.


There was a superb example of science reporting tonight on the national networks, with Rachel Maddow at MSNBC doing a segment that was absolutely full of science and every bit of it SPOT ON. It was amazingly good, and set the standard for others to follow. Chris Hayes interviewed my friend Paul Douglas and that segment was excellent as well. Two bright spots in the normally dismal coverage of anything science by national news media.


The highest wind speeds ever recorded on the planet was made 14 years ago to the month. It was in Moore, Oklahoma, during the May 3, 1999 EF 5 tornado, just about a ile north of where today’s tornado came through. They measurement was made by Dr. Howie Bluestein (one of my professors at Okla. University) using a special Doppler radar. 318 mph. This is the top of the original Fujita scale. Will this storm be stronger?? We just do not know yet.

I’ve many times told people that the rules for tornadoes (such as getting in a bath tub, or a hall closet) do not apply to EF 5 tornadoes. You wil not survive unless you go below ground, or get out. Mets in OKC told people to do just that today. They were correct, and the 30 minute warning made that possible.