Little Bits of History

Widest Recorded Tornado

Posted in History by patriciahysell on May 31, 2014
El Reno, Oklahoma

El Reno, Oklahoma

May 31, 2013: El Reno, Oklahoma is destroyed. The widest tornado in recorded history measured 2.6 miles at its peak. Initial touchdown occurred at 6:03 PM local time about 8.3 miles west-southwest of El Reno. During the day, a mid-to-upper level trough met with a mid-level low pressure area and moved east-northeast over the southern Rocky Mountains to the southern Great Plains. The air mass was expected to become unstable through the upper Midwest and the Mississippi Valley by the afternoon. Dewpoint and temperatures were perfect to enhance the storm’s organization. A cold front was in place from the eastern Dakotas to western Oklahoma.

Intense severe weather was expected across the southern Great Plains and especially in Oklahoma during the afternoon. As the storm organized, the wind shear and moisture along with the instability of the warm sector created a perfect mix for the formation of supercells. Large hail and tornadoes were expected and by 3:30 PM, a Particularly Dangerous Situation Tornado Watch was issued. By 5:33, that had increased to a warning for Canadian County. As the touchdown took place in a mostly rural area, there was little initial property damage. At 6:28, the storm began moving toward more populous regions and a tornado emergency was called.

The rating of the intensity of the storm was debated. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration used the Enhanced Fajita Scale which is based on the damage left behind. They gave the storm an EF3 rating. However, based on data from mobile radar, the University of Oklahoma’s RaXPol Doppler weather radar measured winds in excess of 296 mph and the rating was increased to EF5, the highest rating. Officials debate the proper scale citing lower damage rates. However, if the same tornado had passed directly over Oklahoma City rather than the rural regions in its path, the damage would have been “of biblical proportions” according to William Hooke of the American Meteorological Society.

The tornado killed four storm chasers, the first known deaths in the history of storm chasing. As it passed over open terrain, the chasers were unaware of the massive size of the storm. Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and research partner Carl Young were killed when their vehicle was thrown by the tornado or a sub-vortex as they travelled along Highway 81. Richard Charles Henderson, a local man, also decided to chase the storm and he was killed in the same area. There were eight fatalities associated with the tornado and 151 people were injured. The estimate of damages was $35-40 million. Since it was rush hour and many were trying to get home from jobs in Oklahoma City, it was fortunate that the storm did not cross crowded roads filled with commuters heading home or the death toll may have reached over 500.

Vows made in storms are forgotten in calm. – Thomas Fuller

If patience is worth anything, it must endure to the end of time. And a living faith will last in the midst of the blackest storm. – Mahatma Gandhi

There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm. – Willa Cather

Look for me in the whirlwind or the storm. – Marcus Garvey

Also on this day: Ready to Eat – In 1884 Kellogg patents corn flakes.
Johnstown Flood – In 1889, the South Fork Dam burst.
Pepys’s Diary – In 1669, Samuel made his last diary entry.
BEN – In 1859, Big Ben went on line.

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