Clean-up efforts are underway in the wake of deadly, destructive tornado that carved a devastating 20 mile path south of Oklahoma City Monday. The massive storm, up to a mile wide and with estimated winds of at least 200 mph, flattened entire neighborhoods and destroyed an elementary school in Moore, Okla. The state medical examiner’s office has confirmed 24 people have died. [liveblog]
MOORE, Okla. — Law enforcement officials have blocked entry into the worst-hit neighborhoods around Moore.
Just outside one barricade at Fourth and Wilson, Robin Wood camped out with 25 cases of water bought by her church, the Community Church of Lawton. Over the day, a small tent area arose stocked full of food, clothes, toys and piles of bottled water. Residents of the town bring bags full of donations, while rescue workers cross the barrier for cups of coffee and water. “People bring more and more and people keep taking and taking,” Wood, 37, says. The stay-at-home mom hasn’t slept in more than 32 hours, and other volunteers kept telling her to sit down and rest, but she kept bounding out of the chair to unload new deliveries.
Volunteers on the scene:
The National Weather Service has completed a preliminary storm survey of the Moore, Okla., tornado.
The storm carved a 17-mile path reaching as wide as 1.3 miles across with estimated peak winds up to 200-210 mph, EF-5 intensity (the highest on the 0-5 scale) in the Moore area.
Here are some additional details from this preliminary survey:
EXPERTS SURVEYING IN MOORE HAVE DETERMINED DAMAGE IS EF5 WITH MAXIMUM WINDS OVER 200 MPH. FOUR SURVEY TEAMS CONTINUE TO
INSPECT DAMAGE FROM THIS LONG TRACK TORNADO. INITIAL DAMAGE WAS FOUND AROUND 4.4 MILES WEST OF NEWCASTLE…SOUTH OF TECUMSEH ROAD ALSO KNOWN AS NW 16TH STREET AND EAST LAKE ROAD. THE TORNADO TRACKED NE TO THE INTERSTATE 44 BRIDGE OVER THE CANADIAN RIVER AND THEN TOOK A MORE EASTWARD TRACK THROUGH MOORE. TORNADO DAMAGE ABRUPTLY ENDS 0.3 MILES EAST OF AIR DEPOT ROAD AND N OF SE 134TH ST.
INITIALLY PRODUCING EF0 AND EF1 DAMAGE THE STORM INTENSIFIED VERY RAPIDLY IN 4 MILES OR AROUND 10 MINUTES PRODUCING EF4 DAMAGE BEFORE REACHING INTERSTATE 44. NUMEROUS INDICATIONS OF EF4 DAMAGE WITH SOME AREAS NOW DETERMINED AT EF5 DAMAGE…THE HIGHEST CATEGORY ON THE EF SCALE…WITH OVER 200 MPH WINDS.
The National Weather Service has found evidence of EF-5 damage from the Moore, Okla., tornado.
EF-5 is the highest classification on the 0-5 scale for rating tornadoes, indicating three-second wind gusts of over 200 mph.
At least one area of EF-5 damage was found by survey crews. Details to follow later. #okwx
— NWS Norman (@NWSNorman) May 21, 2013
On average, an EF-5 tornado occurs only every few years in the United States.
On average, over 1,000 #tornadoes hit the U.S. each year, and only one might be an EF-5, reports National Climatic Data Center.
— USA TODAY Weather (@usatodayweather) May 21, 2013
Several EF-5 tornadoes occurred in 2011, including the Joplin twister that killed 161 people, and four separate tornadoes in Alabama on April 27.
The city of Moore, Okla., which was hit by the tornado, has an FAQ on storm shelters published online.
The document, which includes best practice suggestions for Moore residents who want to shelter from a storm, also explains why there are no public or community storm shelters in the town.
One of the questions addressed in the document is, “Why don’t we build a community shelter?” The explanation provided includes a long list of reasons, including the safety of Moore residents as well as security and staffing concerns.
The three places where you shouldn’t be during severe thunderstorms are in mobile homes, in your car, or outside. Going to a community storm shelter puts you in two of these places
The financial feasibility of a community or public shelter is also listed as a consideration:
What would you use this large facility for for the other 364 days of the year? The facility wouldn’t be financially feasible without other uses; but the other uses would have to accommodate unscheduled storms.
FEMA Director Craig Fugate also traveled to Oklahoma as part of the federal response to the storm. On Tuesday, he urged people in the area to avoid making cellphone calls unless necessary, saying they should text instead if possible. He also asked those in the path of the storm to “let people know you’re okay” so that authorities would not waste time with unnecessary searches.
He said people affected by the storm should call 800-621-FEMA or visit disasterassistance.gov.
At the same news conference, Moore Fire Chief Gary Bird said, “We kept over 200 responders out in the field last night. We stayed at the school overnight, going through the school. And we stayed in several different locations, back and forth, changing men out. We had to pull off several times because of the lightning, but then we went back out.”
He later added: “We started with a primary search yesterday, then a secondary search. We made it through, I’ll say, most of the structures, most of the vehicles, most of the homes. The ones we didn’t make it through yesterday, we’ll make it through today for sure. And a second and third time. We will be through every damaged piece of property in this city at least three times before we’re done. And we hope to be done by dark tonight.”
— Brady Dennis
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said Tuesday afternoon that among the many efforts the government has undertaken to help those affected by the storm, from temporary shelters to mental health counseling, lawmakers also had begun to work on legislation aimed at tapping the state’s “rainy day” account to fund relief efforts and aid damaged communities.
She said an estimated 237 people had suffered injuries from the storm — “so far as we know of” — and had been treated at local hospitals. It remained unclear Tuesday how many people were killed in the tornado.
“We don’t have any firm numbers on the number of deaths that we have experienced. We know that bodies have been taken to the medical examiner’s office,” Fallin said. “But we have also heard that there may be bodies that have been taken to local funeral homes. So we are working real hard right now to try to get a more accurate count.”
Fallin praised the local, state and federal emergency workers who had converged on the area during the past day, saying they had done an incredible amount of work amid a “very challenging situation.”
— Brady Dennis
A Facebook group created by Oklahoma resident Leslie Edgar Hagelberg is helping reunite pictures or documents that were blown away by the tornado with their owners.
The group has more than 9,000 members who post photos on the group page of items that were blown into their yards by the tornado. Wedding photos, baby pictures and yearbook pages are among the images posted on the group’s page.
The Georgetown location of Sprinkles, a cupcake shop based in Los Angeles, is offering a special promotion Wednesday to raise money for the Red Cross. All proceeds from sales of the store’s Red Cross Red Velvet Cupcakes will go toward the Oklahoma chapters of the Red Cross, reports The Post’s Maura Judkis.
This is just one of many ways you can help victims of the tornadoes. Check out this post by Caitlin Dewey for more information on ways to donate money, canned food and more.
From the Associated Press:
Meteorologists contacted by the Associated Press used real-time measurements to calculate the energy released during the storm’s life span of almost an hour. Their estimates ranged from 8 times to more than 600 times the power of the Hiroshima bomb.
The textbook characteristics of the Moore, Okla., tornado is evident inspecting this radar animation
(Loop courtesy RadarScope/Weather Decision Technologies)
In the first set of frames (which repeat), the radar reveals a classic hook echo because the radar presentation curls on the west side of the storm. This curvature indicates that the storm is rotating, the hallmark of a supercell thunderstorm capable of producing a tornado. The precipitation-free area inside the hook is called the inflow notch, where warm, unstable air is being sucked into the storm. Over time, you see that notch filled in by high reflectivity (red and pink) returns, which is a signature of storm debris, or a debris ball.
In the second set of frames (25 seconds in), the radar is displaying the wind velocities and the direction of the wind relative to the radar. The green shades indicate winds blowing toward the radar, and the red shades winds away from the radar. When greens and reds are adjacent to each other, it forms a so-called velocity couplet, a tell-tale signature of rotation within the storm and a likely tornado.
This hadn’t been a bad tornado year until Monday. In fact, it had been remarkably quiet, with 274 tornadoes reported around the United States as of Monday, much lower than the average, which would be 491 through May 20. This had been a welcome break from a string of years in which violent thunderstorms spawning tornadoes, hail and powerful straight-line winds — possibly ramped up by climate change — had caused record amounts of insured losses in addition to large losses of life.
The record year for insured losses was 2011, when massive, long-track tornadoes struck Tuscaloosa, Ala., and Joplin, Mo., and insurance companies paid $26 billion in claims. But although that figure easily set the standard, the years 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2012 were also far above the norm in insured losses. In fact, those are the five years in U.S. history with the highest insured losses from thunderstorms and their effects, said Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, a trade association for the insurance industry.
“From our perspective, when we look at long-term trends, it does appear that the weather is getting worse,” he said.
Is that from anthropogenic global warming? Hartwig said it’s not the job of his industry to answer that.
“We do see an increase in variability, volatility and the cost associated with natural disaster events, not only in the United States but around the globe. It’s not for the insurance industry to determine whether climate change is the cause of any weather event. Insurers have a responsibility to measure this risk and assess this risk and be financially prepared and logistically prepared to respond. Whether it’s global warming, per se, that’s going to be left to the scientific community to ascertain.”
Hartwig said that insurance adjusters are only now getting to Moore, and it’s too soon to know how much damage the huge twister caused. But he said that the 1999 tornado that hit Moore cost $1 billion, and this could be comparable.
“It’s going to be hundreds of millions of dollars, no question. Could it surpass the billion-dollar threshold? Yes it could. It’s not uncommon for these events to occur in this day and age.”
Peter Hoeppe, director of Geophysical Risks for Munich RE, the huge reinsurance company, said that Monday’s tornado outbreak wasn’t terribly unusual in scale, but that it’s relatively uncommon for a violent tornado to make a direct strike on a densely populated area.
“That’s bad luck. It’s relatively rare because the states within the Tornado Alley are not densely populated,” said Hoeppe, speaking from Munich, where he stayed up until 2 a.m. Tuesday, Munich time, watching live coverage of the calamity in Oklahoma.
“Tornadoes are not attracted by settlements, nor driven away by settlements. They make their track according to the atmospheric conditions,” he said.
The key for places like Oklahoma is to ensure that people have a safe room, ideally an underground shelter, within easy reach, he said. A typical house cannot be built to withstand the most powerful tornadoes, he said.
“If you have a tornado with a power of E4 or E5, there is no structure that can withstand them, at least not a structure that is economically sensible to build,” Hoeppe said.
— Joel Achenbach
The Fix reports that the question of disaster relief for the tornado has proven sticky for Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe (R), who voted against a relief package for Hurricane Sandy last year:
When the Senate considered a bill to provide billions in relief funds for Hurricane Sandy late last year, Oklahoma Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) railed against it, insisting that “when a disaster occurs in America and emotions are high, everyone wants to pour money on it” and likened the bill to a slush fund.
Tuesday morning, in the wake of a massive tornado that destroyed the town of Moore, Okla., and left dozens dead, Inhofe sought to contrast what happened in his home state with what had happened in New Jersey during Sandy.
“Let’s look at that,” Inhofe said on MSNBC regarding Sandy and his vote against the relief package. “They were getting things — for instance, that was supposed to be in New Jersey. They had things in the Virgin Islands. They were fixing roads there. They were putting roofs on houses in Washington, D.C.”
Oklahoma’s other senator, Tom Coburn (R), has also opposed disaster relief bills in the past, saying they have too often been used for projects that have nothing to do with disaster relief. He issued a statement saying he would ensure that the federal government provides all possible resources:
“I spoke with Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano last night about FEMA’s response,” Coburn said in a statement. “We still don’t know the scope of devastation and won’t for some time. But as the ranking member of Senate committee that oversees FEMA, I can assure Oklahomans that any and all available aid will be delivered without delay.”
Fortunately, the Washington, D.C. area does not experience tornadoes that are as frequent and intense as the Plains and Southeast. However, weaker tornadoes are not uncommon.
This map below, created by CWG’s Kathryn Prociv, does a nice job of illustrating the region’s tornado history, showing the paths and intensity of the various twisters between 1950 and 2011, totaling around 460 (or 115 for the District and the surrounding counties listed in the Climate Central map below).
As you can see, the majority of twisters to affect the region have been of the weaker F0 to F1 variety on the 0-5 Fujita scale (which has now been replaced by the EF, Enhanced Fujita scale). But the tornado that touched down in La Plata, Md. in 2002 was an F4.
Climate Central has developed a map which shows where the greatest concentration of tornadoes have occurred in the region by county.
Charles County, Md. averages the largest number of tornadoes per year in our region, and a hypothesis is that local interactions between cool breezes from the Chesapeake Bay and larger scale hot air masses over the region have enhanced the activity there.
Why aren’t the tornadoes as strong and frequent in our region compared to the Midwest? The Appalachian mountains provide a bit of a barrier, preventing the inflow of some of the warm, unstable air that fuels storms in Tornado Alley (of the Plains) and the so-called Dixie Alley (of the South).
BuzzFeed has a great pictorial explainer which shows how the convergence of dry air to the southwest, cold air from the northwest, and hot, humid air from the southeast converge in the vicinity of Oklahoma and the Plains, making it the most vulnerable location in the world for tornado formation.
CWG’s Kathryn Prociv will have a more detailed post on D.C. area tornado climatology tomorrow.
HOUSTON — At the airport, Mark Mitchell zoomed in on a radar map on his phone, pointing to the large red circles just to the left of Oklahoma City — a series of storms set to hit the city in the next hour.
“They’re saying it’s just going to be bad thunderstorms, but it’s ripe for bad weather,” the 53-year-old oil and gas sales manager said. He called his wife and asked her to go pick up their granddaughter from school. The weather wouldn’t be as bad as yesterday, but he’d still prefer her missing a few hours of school. “We have a storm shelter that I built in my house and I know they can be safe there.”
“The hardest part,” Mitchell said, eyes welling and hands nervously opening and closing his eyeglasses, “the hardest part is the kids in the schools. … My grandkids are the same age.”
Mitchell said he’s lived in Edmonton, Okla., for 10 years, and this storm has him and his wife considering whether they still want to live in Hurricane Alley.
“People of Oklahoma are the nicest you’ll ever meet,” he says.
He picks up his phone and looks at the radar map once more.
In an interview with ABC News, Sherri Bittle and Cindy Lowe, two first-grade teachers from Briarwood Elementary School, which was hit by the tornado, described their experience and efforts to safeguard their students.
To protect her students, Lowe said she lay her body on top of as many kids as she could.
Bittle, whose classroom was on the other side of the building, said, “I had them take their backpacks and put them over their heads, just as another safety precaution.”
Lowe says she tried to keep the students calm and explained, “We practiced tornado drills, I had to tell them, this is not a drill.”
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant is donating $1 million to disaster relief, the American Red Cross says.
The NBA star is making the donation through his family foundation, the charity announced.
The Daily Oklahoman quoted Janienne Bella, regional CEO, as saying: “Mr. Durant’s gift and support to Oklahoma comes at a time of great need and we’re forever thankful for his generosity.”
Durant is one of several sports figures donating to the effort. Matt Kemp of the Los Angeles Dodgers, who grew up in Oklahoma, promised last night to donate $1,000 to tornado victims for every home run he hits between now and the All-Star game. Cindy Boren has more on Kemp’s charity campaign.
Moore, Okla., resident Charles Gafford posted this video to YouTube, showing the tornado tearing through his neighborhood from the vantage point of his storm shelter:
NewsOK has a harrowing account of a teacher and her son’s survival as a school collapsed around them in Moore during the tornado:
Second-grade teacher Annette Brown was with the children in the restroom and hallways of Briarwood Elementary for about 20 minutes Monday before the ceiling collapsed, pinning them to the ground.
Metal beams and cinder blocks crushed her. She held the hand of her son — a student at the school — the whole time, despite losing feeling in her arms. She said her thoughts were on the children and keeping them calm.
“I thought we were going to die,” Brown said.
Read the full account.
Matt Kemp is putting his money where his bat is. The Los Angeles Dodger promised last night to donate $1,000 to tornado victims for every home run he hits between now and the All-Star game. The haul so far: $1,000.
Kevin Durant upped the ante, donating $1 million through his family foundation to Oklahoma recovery. The Oklahoma City Thunder star made the pledge to the American Red Cross disaster relief efforts in the state, the charity announced.
Kemp had experienced tornado first hand. As a teenager growing up in Oklahoma, Moore was struck by the massive “May 3” tornado in 1999. Cindy Boren has more on Kemp’s charity campaign.
There’s a limit to how accurate those predictions will ever be. “We will never have the degree of resolution we need in atmospheric variables and measures in order to achieve some perfect forecast,” explained Greg Carbin of the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center in a 2011 interview with Scientific American. “It’s just not possible. …We might be able to get, say, an hour lead-time on a tornado.”
Also, Capital Weather Gang’s Jack Williams recently penned a piece which explored the question of why some violent storms produce tornadoes and some don’t:
… scientists would like to know why only a few supercell thunderstorms produce tornadoes. A better understanding could help forecasters issue tornado warnings farther in advance with fewer false alarms.
Note: Per my earlier post, the Moore, Okla., tornado was fairly well forecast, and residents there had more than 30 minutes lead time.
More severe storms are likely to erupt today, and a tornado watch has been issued for north Texas, including Dallas, Waco and Abilene.
The watch is in effect until 7 p.m. central time.
According to the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, the primary threats include:
* SEVERAL TORNADOES WITH A FEW INTENSE TORNADOES POSSIBLE
* NUMEROUS DAMAGING WIND GUSTS LIKELY WITH A FEW SIGNIFICANT GUSTS TO 80 MPH POSSIBLE
* SEVERAL LARGE HAIL EVENTS WITH A FEW VERY LARGE HAIL EVENTS TO 3 INCHES IN DIAMETER POSSIBLE
Last Wednesday, several tornadoes touched down in this region, including one which killed six people in Granbury, about 40 miles southwest of Dallas.
That's a roof in the front yard!!!! pic.twitter.com/ZHOwdBeqZy
— ChristineVanTimmeren (@ChristineFox25) May 21, 2013
Gutted strip of businesses in Moore. twitter.com/EmilyBaucum/st…
— Emily Baucum (@EmilyBaucum) May 21, 2013
It is one of the few bright moments in Oklahoma’s latest tornado tragedy.
An elderly woman on television, talking about surviving the disaster but losing her dog in the wreckage. Halfway through the interview, her miniature gray schnauzer pokes its head through the rubble.
“My little heart!” Barbara Garcia exclaims.
The CBS News video is already the most popular on the site this month, says senior broadcast producer Mike Wuebben. The three-minute segment had more than 600,000 views by 1:10 p.m., according to site analytics.
“That’s most definitely a hit,” Wuebben says. “Everybody wanted a story of hope.”
In the video, Garcia says she had two prayers as she huddled on a stool in her bathroom with her little gray dog as the tornado destroyed everything around her.
Please God, let me survive. And my little dog, too.
Suddenly, her interviewer exlaimed, “a dog, a dog.” A gray canine poked its head through the debris. After she helped the canine out, the miniature schnauzer began to scamper, without even a limp.
“Bless your little bitty heart,” Garcia said.
Stroking the dog’s side, she added: “Well, I thought God just answered one prayer, ‘Let me be okay.’ He answered both of them. Because this was my … second prayer.”
She didn’t take her eyes off her pet. “Poor little thing.”
Radar imagery of the Moore, Okla., tornado revealed an unmistakable “debris ball,” a signature of the massive amount of material lofted into the air by the violent storm.
The National Weather Service office in Tulsa says some of the debris landed in its city, 100 miles away.
Seeing reports of light tornado debris falling in the Tulsa metro area again this evening, likely from the Moore area.
— NWS Tulsa (@NWStulsa) May 20, 2013
WeatherBug says debris was transported all the way to Branson, Mo., — some 250 miles away, although validating the origins of the debris would be difficult.
Debris from Moore reported falling near Branson, MO.
— WeatherBug (@WeatherBug) May 21, 2013
President Obama on Tuesday said the federal government will provide any resources necessary to help Oklahomans recover from Monday’s devastating tornado.
“As a nation our full focus is on the urgent work of rescue,” Obama said in a statement at the White House. “Oklahoma will have all the resources they need.”
Obama said FEMA Administrator William Craig Fugate is heading to Oklahoma to help with recovery efforts. The president also said he has issued a disaster declaration that will ensure federal money and assistance reaches victims quickly. Urban search and rescue teams from Texas, Nebraska and Tennessee have been activated.
Obama also said he met with top administration officials, including Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, about the tornado Tuesday morning. The full human and economic toll from the disaster is still not known, the president said.
He did not say if he would tour sites impacted by the tornado.
“There are empty spaces where there used to be living rooms and bedrooms, and classrooms, and in time we’re gonna need to refill those spaces with love and laughter and community,” Obama said.
Sixteen minutes before the deadly tornado that struck Moore first touched down around Newcastle, Okla., the National Weather Service forecast office in Norman, Okla. issued a tornado warning. That lead time is three minutes longer than the national average of 13 minutes for tornado warnings. The tornado reached Moore, Okla. about 20 minutes later.
Newcastle-Moore OKC Tornado was on the ground approx. 40 minutes. Tornado warning was in effect for 16 minutes before tornado developed.
— NWS Norman (@NWSNorman) May 20, 2013
The warning was issued at 2:40 p.m. Central time, and the tornado reached Moore around 3:15 p.m. Central time.
In addition to the warning, a tornado watch had been in effect for two hours and 10 minutes, and the NWS had indicated the area was under a heightened risk for severe weather and tornadoes for several days.
— Brad Panovich (@wxbrad) May 21, 2013
Mike Smith, an executive vice president at AccuWeather and author of the book “Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather” said he thought the warning system did its job.
“I’ve already been called by reporters asking my impression of how well the warning system worked for Moore. As far as I can tell (this is preliminary), it worked well,” he posted on his blog.
The Oklahoma state medical examiner has lowered the official death toll from the tornado to 24.
Estimates of the number of dead and wounded are sketchy, and have changed frequently since it struck Monday afternoon.
The state medical examiner’s office initially reported 51 people dead and up to 40 more fatalities expected. But spokeswoman Amy Elliott said early Tuesday that a total of 24 bodies had been received by the medical examiner’s office. While the death toll was expected to increase, there was no way to know by how much.
Via The Oklahoman:
The Oklahoma Red Cross is asking people to donate by texting Red Cross to 90999 which will be a $10 donation, spokesman Ken Garcia said.
Garcia said the donations allow the Red Cross purchase needed supplies.
Those who are looking for family members can visit www.safeandwell.org, Garcia said. Local Red Cross units will be dispatched throughout the damaged area.
The Salvation Army Arkansas-Oklahoma Division has dispatched disaster response teams.
Donations can be made to:
• The Salvation Army Disaster Relief, P.O. Box 12600, Oklahoma City, OK 73157. Designate Oklahoma Tornado Relief on all checks.
• Donate by phone: (800) 725-2769
• Donate online: donate.salvationarmyusa.org/uss/eds/aok
FEED THE CHILDREN
Feed The Children is preparing emergency disaster relief supplies and will be accepting donations from the public on Tuesday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the McCormick Distribution Center, 29 N McCormick.
Items that will be accepted are diapers, canned goods, nonperishable food and snack items, water and sports drinks.
Feed The Children is coordinating with other organizations and authorities at the scene to deliver disaster supplies as requests are received.
Cash donations to help with relief efforts can be made by phone at 800-627-4556 or online at www.feedthechildren.org/disaster.
More ways to donate.
Some heart-rending videos of Moore, Oklahoma residents discovering the wreckage after the storm yesterday have surfaced.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” says a man emerging from his storm cellar in the video below:
Trapped people are calling for help in this video:
NOAA’s satellite imagery shows how the thunderstorms in Oklahoma erupted Monday. The storms’ violent updrafts sucked in air that shot up 40,000-50,000 feet or more into the atmosphere. The bubbly white structures you see in these images are known as overshooting cloud tops and are textbook features of violent thunderstorms.
— Dakota Smith(@weatherdak) May 21, 2013
In the animation below, alternating between a visible and infrared view of the storms, the deep reds in the infrared view indicate the coldest, highest cloud tops.
— Mike Jenkins (@MikeJenkinsTV) May 21, 2013
— Ginger Zee (@Ginger_Zee) May 21, 2013
Seven children’s bodies were taken from Plaza Towers Elementary School on Monday, said Oklahoma City police Sgt. Jennifer Wardlow, and officials said they thought more young victims were still trapped in the rubble. “Unfortunately I think that number’s going to grow,” Wardlow said.
She said most members of the Oklahoma City police force were assisting with the rescue effort in nearby Moore, and many off-duty officers had come in to help as well. In addition to the destroyed elementary school, crews are needed to search block after block of leveled houses and commercial buildings. The level of devastation is so complete, Wardlow said, that crews have virtually no address signs or other landmarks to guide them.
“It’s just a process of going house to house,” Wardlow said. “These are entire neighborhoods gone – just wiped clean. It’s the worst possible scenario.”
For an area that has been devastated by three tornadoes in the last 15 years, Monday’s disaster had an element of deja vu. “May 3rd” refers to the 1999 tornado that also struck Moore.
Another round of severe weather, including the possibility of large tornadoes, is expected in the central U.S. today, but nudged slightly east of Monday’s outbreak.
The National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center has outlined a sprawling risk area from central Texas to Michigan, with an area of elevated risk in northeast Texas, southwest Arkansas and northwest Louisiana. This “moderate risk” zone includes the Dallas area and parts of northeast Texas where a tornado outbreak killed 6 people last Wednesday. More than 50 million people reside in the designated severe weather risk zones.
Writes the National Weather Service:
THUNDERSTORMS ARE EXPECTED TO DEVELOP AHEAD OF A COLD FRONT BY MIDDAY ACROSS PARTS OF SOUTHEAST OKLAHOMA INTO CENTRAL AND NORTHEAST TEXAS … TRACKING EASTWARD DURING THE EVENING HOURS INTO ARKANSAS AND LOUISIANA. INITIAL THUNDERSTORM ACTIVITY WILL REMAIN DISCRETE … AND BE CAPABLE OF PRODUCING LARGE … DAMAGING HAIL … STRONG WINDS AND TORNADOES /A FEW POSSIBLY STRONG/. THESE STORMS ARE EXPECTED TO DEVELOP INTO A SQUALL LINE AS THEY APPROACH SOUTHWEST ARKANSAS AND NORTHWEST LOUISIANA…LEADING TO AN INCREASING THREAT OF STRONG…DAMAGING WINDS INTO THE EVENING HOURS.
The Oklahoma state medical examiner’s office reported this morning that the official death toll has reached 51.
The office said 24 deceased victims have been transported to its Oklahoma City facility and positive identifications have been made in the vast majority of those cases. Those bodies are ready to be returned to their loved ones.
Moore, Okla. has been an unlucky magnet for large tornadoes, with three touchdowns — all in May — in the last 15 years.
The first, on May 3, 1999, killed 36 people and was rated an F-5, highest on the 0-5 scale for tornado intensity.
The second, on May 8, 2003, caused extensive damage but no fatalities. It was rated an F-4.
And then there was yesterday (Monday, May 20, 2013), which will also likely be rated at the top of the tornado scale.
Here’s the eerie similarity of the paths of the three storms.
The paths of 3 major tornadoes that have gone through Moore, OK in the past 15 years are eerily similar: twitter.com/oklahomanick/s…
— Nick Gray (@oklahomanick) May 21, 2013
Historical data indicate that on May 20, sections of the Texas panhandle into central Oklahoma have the highest risk of tornado activity.
The events of Monday in Moore, Okla. sadly fit the trend.
Storm chaser footage of the Moore tornado reveals its gargantuan size and astonishing intensity.
“This is like worse than Joplin,” says one of the eyewitnesses in the video below
Video posted to YouTube by TornadoVideos.net
Here are two more storm chaser videos:
Video posted to YouTube by BaseHuntersChasing
Video posted to YouTube by Ben Holcomb
President Obama is expected to make a statement on the tornado damage at 10 a.m. at the White House.
Obama also approved a major disaster declaration for Oklahoma overnight. The move will make funding available to support affected individuals as well as provide additional federal assistance to support immediate response and recovery efforts.
As rescue crews waited for daylight to begin searching the devastation in Moore, Okla., Gov. Mary Fallin (R) took to the airwaves to give her assessment of the storm and rescue efforts.
“Our hearts are broken,” Fallin said in an interview on NBC’s “Today” show. She called Monday “a tragic day for the state of Oklahoma.”
In the immediate aftermath of the storm, Fallin said, cell phone and landline service was nonexistent, and she found herself using two-way radios to communicate with her cabinet secretaries and emergency personnel.
“This is bigger than anything I’ve ever seen,” said Fallin, who has been in elected office as a state legislator, lieutenant governor, congresswoman and governor for a total of 23 years, a span of time that includes the 1999 tornado that killed more than 40 and the deadly Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. “It’s absolutely huge. It’s horrific.”
Nevertheless, Fallin said survivors might still be found in the coming hours.
“I’m going to keep hope,” Fallin said. “I’m going to keep prayer.”
Sobering before and after images have emerged of the wreckage caused by the violent twister in Moore.
The UK Telegraph has created an interactive slider graphic of the devastation at Plaza Towers Elementary School: Graphic: Oklahoma tornado destroys elementary school
And here’s a before and after image of an entire neighborhood flattened in Moore, posted to Twitter:
— Drake Martinet (@WithDrake) May 20, 2013