It was a memorable severe weather night for the Plains — and Oklahoma in particular — as tornadoes, extreme flash flooding and the threat of loose tigers spread like wildfire across the Sooner State and social media on Wednesday.
Severe thunderstorms began to pop in the late afternoon from Texas to Nebraska. Early in the evening, rotation was spotted on radar moving toward the southern Oklahoma City metro area, including Norman — the home of the National Weather Center, the Storm Prediction Center and the National Severe Storms Laboratory, to name a few — and Moore, which is no stranger to deadly tornado outbreaks.
High-resolution radar images depicted intense rotation in a storm that was tracking toward the southern Oklahoma City metro area. In this image, you can easily see the location of the likely tornado, on the left in the simple reflectivity, as well as the tell-tale velocity signature on the right, showing winds heading toward the radar (green) and away from the radar (red).
Twelve people were injured in southern Oklahoma City when one of the evening’s likely tornadoes rolled through a mobile home park.
To the north in Kansas and Nebraska, large tornadoes were captured in photos and video. One of the tornadoes was described as “multi-vortex,” meaning that embedded within the main circulation of the tornado, storm spotters could see other vortexes spinning around each other. Two of Wednesday’s largest tornadoes were spotted near Hardy, Neb., and the other near Jamestown, Kan.
In all, 51 tornado reports were submitted to the National Weather Service on Wednesday night, from northern Texas to Nebraska.
Meanwhile, it had been raining really hard in central Oklahoma for hours as slow-moving storms had been building one on top of the other. By 10 p.m., the National Weather Service in Norman had to issue a flash flood emergency for the southern Oklahoma City metro area — something the office has never had to do before.
A flash flood emergency is reserved for the most critical flooding situations, often that are threatening a large population. The public is warned to stay off the road in these dangerous flood events, for reasons illustrated perfectly by this storm report from Norman, Okla.:
Oklahoma City ended the May 6 calendar day with 7.1 inches of rain, which blew away the old record for the date as well as the wettest day in May. It also may have broken its all-time 24-hour rainfall record, drenched by 7.98 inches of rain between 10 p.m. Tuesday to 10 p.m. on Wednesday. According to Weather.com’s Nick Wiltgen, the previous 24-hour record was 7.62 inches, set in 2010. However, Weather Underground’s weather historian Christopher C. Burt, said the 24-hour record is 8.95 inches, set on Oct. 20, 1983. 24-hour rainfall records are not specifically tracked by the National Weather Service.
Severe flash flooding was widespread across the Oklahoma City metro area. In a sick twist from Mother Nature, the ground became so saturated with water that tornado shelters floated right up out of people’s yards. These types of shelters, which are often buried in back yards, are fairly common in the Plains states.
Weather.com’s Sean Breslin reports that one Oklahoma City woman drowned in her storm shelter on Wednesday night:
If all that action isn’t enough for you, at one point on Wednesday evening, the Tiger Safari in Tuttle, Okla., reported that because of tornado damage, it could not account for all of its animals. People were being asked to stay inside because there might be tigers on the prowl, but fortunately the park was able to account for all felines by around 10 p.m.
The National Weather Service in Norman is heading out on Thursday to survey the storm damage in Grady County, Norman, Okla., and the southeast Oklahoma City area, which was where the mobile home park was struck by a tornado.
However, the office notes that those are the only places they will be able to survey in the near future as severe weather season does not appear to be giving the southern Plains a break this week. The Storm Prediction Center has issued a slight risk of severe storms on Thursday, an enhanced risk on Friday and a moderate risk on Saturday.
Saturday’s severe weather setup looks particularly menacing, which is reflected in the Storm Prediction Center’s outlook for the day. It’s not a common occurrence for the center to issue a moderate risk — which is the second-highest risk category on a scale from one to five — that far out. However, the forecast models are in agreement that atmospheric ingredients will come together to create a potentially widespread and life-threatening severe weather outbreak.
More weather around the U.S.: