One of the tornadoes that hit the Oklahoma City area on Friday was the widest ever recorded at 2.6 miles. It was rated an EF5, which is the very top of the tornado scale. Nine days earlier, another EF5 had hit Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb. And in 1999, Moore had another of the rare EF5′s. That twister featured winds at 302 m.p.h., the strongest winds ever recorded. On Friday, the extra-wide tornado had winds just short of that, at 300 m.p.h. Good thing it struck out in the country or Oklahoma City would have been blown off the map, with untold numbers of casualties. As it was, 18 people were killed, including two tornado chasers. The three tornadoes that we endured that night paled by comparison.
From the Associated Press:
The deadly tornado that plowed through an area near Oklahoma City last week was even larger and more powerful than previously estimated — a record 2.6 miles wide with winds that reached nearly 300 mph, just shy of the strongest winds ever measured.
The National Weather Service on Tuesday announced that the twister that hit El Reno was a top-of-the-scale EF5 twister — the second to strike the area in less than two weeks.
Friday’s tornado was initially rated as an EF3. But the agency upgraded that ranking after surveying damage and concluding that the storm had winds of 295 mph. Eighteen people died in the storm and subsequent flooding, including three storm chasers.
The Oklahoma City area also saw an EF5 tornado on May 20. That one raked Moore, a suburb 25 miles southeast of El Reno, and killed 24 people. Moore was hit in 1999 by another EF5, which had the strongest winds ever measured on earth: 302 mph.
The massive tornado that formed Friday avoided highly populated metro areas, a fact that almost certainly saved lives.
Winds were at their most powerful in areas devoid of structures, said Rick Smith, chief warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service’s office in Norman.
“Any house would have been completely swept clean on the foundation,” Smith said.
The twister marched through the countryside between El Reno and Union City, a region of largely rural farm and grazing land. Most of the destruction came toward the end of the tornado’s 16.2-mile path along Interstate 40, where several motorists were killed when their vehicles were tossed around.
Like many Midwestern cities, the Oklahoma City metropolitan area continues to expand in the suburbs, but the rapid growth hasn’t quite reached as far west as where Friday’s tornado tracked.
William Hooke, a senior policy fellow of the American Meteorological Society, said the continued growth of cities in tornado-prone areas makes it only a matter of time before another monstrous twister hits a heavily populated area.
“You dodged a bullet,” Hooke said. “You lay that path over Oklahoma City, and you have devastation of biblical proportions.