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Worst Case Tornado

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As I reflect on what took place last May in Joplin and 2 days later in Oklahoma, I am reminded of the importance of staying weather aware and having a plan. The 2011 spring was a particularly violent one for many areas of the country. The thing that really separated the 2011 tornado season was the number of populated areas that were hit by strong tornadoes. Here is a partial list: St. Louis, MO, Raleigh, NC, Jackson, MS, Tuscaloosa/Birmingham, AL, Joplin, MO, Oklahoma City metro, and that's just off the top of my head. Thankfully, the jet stream has shifted north this May 2012, and gulf moisture has been relatively limited thanks to a ridge of high pressure located along the Gulf Coast.

Joplin EF-5 Tornado

The Joplin tornado on May 22, 2011 is what I call a worst-case tornado. Why? It was moving slowly, 10 mph at times in fact, right? Yes, but it developed practically on top of the city of Joplin, intensified rapidly, and left little time for reaction. The ½ to ¾ mile wide tornado cut a swath through the heart of the city from the west to the east. The violence of the winds grinding on each location for several minutes paired with the tornado formation right near the city created a particularly deadly combination. The only situation I can think of that would be worse is if an EF-5 occurs at night, moves at 50-60 mph, and also develops right on top of a city.

The May 24, 2011 Tornado Outbreak

It may sound strange to think that we were lucky on May 24, 2011 to have only lost 10 lives, but it is true. While the number of tornadoes was not excessive, they were nearly all long-track violent tornadoes. The Canton tornado was EF-3, and quite possibly could have been EF-4 had it hit something more substantial. The Chickasha-Newcastle tornado was a high end EF-4 (wind speeds estimated at 190 mph) and dissipated just before taking a similar track as the F-5 on May 3, 1999 across Moore and southwest OKC. The Dibble-Washington-Goldsby EF-4 mercifully dissipated just before entering Norman. The El Reno-Piedmont-Guthrie EF-5 took a track that missed densely populated areas of El Reno, Piedmont, and Guthrie thankfully. At one point we feared that El Reno, NW OKC, and Edmond were going to take a direct hit from a mile-wide monster when the tornado turned right along I-40 west of El Reno. Fortunately, this tornado turned to the left right before entering El Reno and passed 2 miles north of the city. I am in no way trying to diminish the impact or toll that these tornadoes took on many rural Oklahoma families who lost everything, including their loved ones in some cases.

The bottom line is you need to stay weather aware whatever way you can. Have a plan that includes a safe room, below ground shelter, or an escape route if you plan to survive tornadoes of the magnitude that hit so frequently last spring. We are so pleased to have had the opportunity to join Flatsafe in giving away over 20 underground tornado shelters this May!

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