Terry’s Take: Moore, Oklahoma no stranger to violent twisters
When it comes to tornadoes, Moore, Oklahoma has to be the unluckiest town in Tornado Alley. The suburb of Oklahoma City (population 55,000) was hit Monday with its fourth significant tornado in just 15 years. The haunting images of Moore following the tornado showed horrifying scenes: blocks of flattened homes and debris, demolished hospitals and elementary schools, and burning buildings. Late Tuesday the NWS rated the latest Moore twister as an EF5 tornado with winds up to 210 mph, the highest intensity on the Fujita scale.
But longtime residents of Moore are no strangers to the destruction of a powerful tornado. The town weathered the strongest tornado known to man in 1999. The May 3, mega-twister lasted an hour and 25 minutes and was responsible for 41 deaths, 583 injures, and over $1 billion in damaged property. The storm produced the highest wind speed ever measured on Earth with a Doppler recorded gust of 318 miles per hour. The violent EF5 storm covered 61 miles in Moore and the surrounding towns before dissipating in Midwest City, Oklahoma. It destroyed over 8,000 homes, over 1,000 apartments, 260 businesses and several public buildings and churches.
A map comparing the EF5 twisters of 1999 and 2013 shows the near-identical path the two destructive storms weaved through Moore, even completely overlapping for several blocks. It’s eerie and quite unusual that two epic storms could be so closely aligned. Few towns are ever hit by an EF5 tornado and the odds of being hit by a second in just 14 years are incredibly low.
The NWS survey conducted by several teams has now determined that the 2013 tornado began 4.4 miles west of Newcastle and ended 4.8 miles east of Moore, yielding an approximate tornado path length of 17 miles. On the ground for nearly 40 minutes, the storm reached an exceptional width of 1.3 miles.
By all accounts, the latest tornado to strike Moore was every bit as bad as the monster of 1999. In fact, it was wider and passed over a more densely populated area. So why with such extensive damage was the loss of life so much less in 2013? It’s my belief that timely and accurate warnings, along with the healthy respect the people of Oklahoma have for tornadoes, saved many lives.
The people of Moore had known for days the potential for severe weather existed. Tornado watches were out hours before any storms and the sirens in Moore were blown 30 minutes before the winds. 15 minutes ahead of the twister, tornado emergencies were issued warming of an exceptionally strong tornado that warranted shelter below ground. People listened to the warnings and the system worked. 50 years ago the death toll would have been staggering…perhaps more than 100. While there is still work to be done, slowly but surely, we are making progress in the battle to predict and warn of these deadly storms.