As a society, we have early warning systems, improved storm spotter technology, and mandated building codes to resist a certain level of violent storms. However, more needs to be done. As cities expand, people need more advanced warning times, updated weather warning sensors, and integrated detection systems. Consideration must be give to build structures above the level of standard building codes.
A need exists for businesses and Government to apply more cohesive emergency response plans, that together advance community resiliency in the face of such grave convective weather threats. As Lauren Hill said during a CNN interview after the Moore EF5 tornado, “effective preparedness is resiliency.”
Regional climates have demonstrated stark contrasts over recent years, what was a norm cannot be expected. In 2011, there was an enormous destructive outbreak in tornado activity in Dixie Alley. Then in 2012, there was a Midwest drought, in 2013 a delayed spring in the west, followed by damaging and deadly Midwest tornadoes. Community risk assessors and response planners need to cover a broader range of atmospheric threats.
The now famous 16 minutes lead time on the Moore EF5 tornado event of May 20, 2013, aided by in-field storm spotter reports, and the resulting tornado emergency as executed by the National Weather Service (NWS) in Norman, Oklahoma, provided significant lead time for people to seek shelter. Many lives were saved by storm shelters, as thousands of homes were reduced to piles of rubble. However, in spite of recent advance notice and better shelter designs, too many lives were still lost, and billions of dollars worth of property damage occurred.
A second powerful tornado occurred north in Kansas (actually there were several large powerful tornadoes on the 28th), this one was located near Bennington, Kansas, and was preliminary rated an EF4+ tornado, as was confirmed by mobile Doppler on Wheels (DOW) radar. Fortunately, the Bennington, Kansas tornado did relatively little damage, because the tornado remained nearly stationary over open rangeland. However, had the Bennington, Kansas tornado dropped south toward Salina, Kansas, and hit the city, the resulting damage would have been equally as catastrophic as the Moore EF5 of May 20, 2013.
Then on May 31st, 2013, an enormous tornado, passed just south of El Reno, Oklahoma. The tornado mostly traversed open country destroying a small number of houses. However, ten deaths occurred in vehicles, due in part, to the tornado being cloaked in rain, and then quickly changing path and direction. Multiple DOWs indicated wind gusts briefly exceeded 250 mph in sub-vortices, smaller tornadoes that rotated around the larger tornado like a merry-go-round. However, housing damage maxed out at only EF3. The El Reno tornado has distinction of being the largest tornado in recorded in history, an alarming 2.6 miles wide.
Interviews with storm chasers tracking the El Reno tornado indicated alarming aspects to this super storm. First, the El Reno tornadic storm propagated to an immense scale in a relatively short period of time once the capping inversion broke. The tornado literally developed from a few small cu towers into the largest tornadic storm in history, in less than two hours. One chaser explains: “I was scared. How I survived, I am not quite sure. All I did was report tornadoes and then exit the rapidly rotating collar cloud region using my counter intuitive instinct, as the storm was rapidly back building and road options were being eliminated due to downed power poles and other debris.” “It was terrifying, I never ever want to be in a storm that enormously powerful and violent again.” The El Reno tornado also became the tornado of distinction that took the lives of top tornado researcher and scientist Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and meteorologist Carl Young –all members of the Twistex Science Team (See Thunderchase.com). Tim helped design tornado probes that were deployed in the paths of several tornadoes to record wind speed-pressure relationships (See attached). Our blessing goes to Twistex member families, they did not die in vain, and the real science of tornadoes will move steps towards better protecting future generations.
To fully grasp the threat of the El Reno tornado on May 31st 2013, we must understand this deadly monster tornado was ‘in fact’ heading right for downtown Oklahoma City (See slide show). For a period of time, tornado velocities were so high, and the tornado was so large, that meteorologists were wondering if this was finally the tornado that everyone had predicted would cause a major catastrophe. The strong mesocyclone did in fact go through Oklahoma City, but fortunately it released much of its surface energy over El Reno, Oklahoma, and gratefully lifted as it passed through downtown Oklahoma.
This was another warning shot fired by Mother Nature. The message is clear. Do not ignore the threat. Prepare now or face dire consequences. An EF5 tornado will occur again. The time for community and business planners is at hand, and not after such a catastrophic event occurs.
Thank you: Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young of Twistex for your service to the science of tornado research, and for reporting, recording, and documenting on the most violent tornadoes. Also, special thanks to top tornado damage assessor and tornadic storm tracker, Tim Marshall, for his dedication and many years of hard work, and for helping communities in tornado alley to become a bit safer places for us to live. Thanks to many people in the storm tracking and reporting community who provide vital minutes of life saving lead time when they first report ground confirmation of deadly tornadoes.