Thursday, May 23, 2013

The Tornado Chronicles: Moore, OK Tornado of 5-20-13...

As you know by now, a devastating tornado struck the Moore, OK area late during the afternoon hours of May 20, 2013.  This is the same community that was hit hard by violent tornadoes back in 1999 and again in 2003.

Here are some videos of the tornado that have emerged on YouTube:

The next one is definitely from the "do not try this at home" department, but is very revealing as to the power of this tornado:

Notice how the videographer jumped back into his/her vehicle toward the end?  Not a good idea.  Just ask the owner of this truck (one of countless photos of completely destroyed vehicles):

There is one video that I cannot embed, but you can go to this link and view it.  It shows a family shooting video out of the top of their storm shelter as the tornado passed very close by in Moore.  Once again, I must interject that it is not a good idea to do this.  The shelter door should have been closed, as debris could have easily fallen inside, hurting or even killing someone.

Incoming images of the damage are devastating - and remind me of the destruction that I witnessed first hand when surveying the EF-5 damage in Joplin, MO:

As of this writing, 51 people are reported dead, 20 of which are said to be children.  Unfortunately, based on the degree of damage and the number of people reported as missing, those numbers will probably climb.  Our thoughts and prayers are certainly with the folks in this region.  

As a professional meteorologist charged with warning people in the path of severe weather, I am heartbroken at the death toll here, particularly among the elementary aged children that took shelter the only way they knew how - crouched down in the hallways of their schools.  The unfortunate truth is that in an EF-4 or EF-5 tornado situation, unless you are underground, there is no sure guarantee of survival.

The following YouTube video is an excellent illustration of the above statement.  Just watch as this man emerges from his family's storm shelter to find that everything above them had been wiped completely away:

No doubt, his family would have perished, or would have been seriously injured, had they not been in a below ground shelter.

I can't get over how similar the scene looks to when I stepped out of the car in Joplin, MO 3 years ago.  This video captures it quite well:

EF-4 damage is widespread, and I believe that evidence of EF-5 damage also exists.  **Update:  as of late afternoon 5/21/13, the National Weather Service survey team has rated the tornado EF-5 intensity.

Below is a map that shows the preliminary track of 5-20-13 compared to the last two major tornadoes in the same area:

Google has also released a street level map and current satellite view of the hardest hit area.  First, a wide shot showing the overall track map with the satellite view embedded over Moore (click on map to enlarge):

...and then a tight zoom on that satellite view.  Note the damage swath (brown swath of dirt vs. the more lush, green surrounding area):

On each image, the colored triangles note the corresponding EF-intensity damage in that area (blue, green, yellow, gold, red, purple represents EF-0 through EF-5 damage, respectively).

If we take an even closer look at the satellite view around the Briarwood Elementary School (where the EF-5 damage took place), you can see very clear evidence that the tornado was "multiple-vortex" at that stage, and that it produced several "suction vortices" (click to enlarge):

I have highlighted some of the more obvious multiple vortex tracks in yellow on the same image below, and circled some of the more obvious suction vortex marks in white (click to enlarge):

Multiple vortex, as the name implies, indicates that there was more than one circulation (often called "mini-tornadoes") spinning around inside of the primary circulation.  A suction vortex is noted where the tornado "sucks up" a significant portion of the earth at that location.  Grass, even asphalt and concrete are usually removed, and the bark will be stripped off of trees nearby as well.

This is a fluid post.  If you have an interest in this event, please bookmark the post and check back for updates as more information becomes available throughout the next couple of days...

For more information from 'The Original Weather Blog', including shorter, more frequent posts during rapidly changing weather events, please be sure to follow me on facebook and twitter:


Kevin said...

Cantore was saying last night that the damage he was seeing in Moore was more like the EF5 damage of Joplin than the EF4 in Alabama.

Rob White said...

Kevin, I would agree with that based on what I have seen.

Jerry Smith said...

A lot of devastation from these tornado's. I'm just hoping these families can at some point get back to a sense of normal life.

Matt Maddox said...

Symmetric astronomical patterns have been found for Moore, Joplin, Barneveld WI, Moscow, Super Tuesday, OKC outbreak May 24, 2011 and Great Bend, KS 1915 tornadoes. Astronomical diagrams can be found at A broad-spectrum geophysical prediction was made for5/18/13 1330 UTc - about the middle of the multi-tornado occurence - A model for electromagnetic field disturbance can be found at the bottom of

Edwina Sybert said...

Those damages that this F5 tornado brought is really heart-wrenching. I guess it would take a very long time before the victims are able to move on. This kind of experience is something that's hard to forget, as those remnants we'd seen is what we always see in the end-of-the-world-themed movies.

Always on track,
Edwina @

Victoria said...

This is cool!