The Warning System Appears to Have Worked Well

Update: 9:11am Tuesday: The death toll, according to the Oklahoma Medical Examiner, and quoted by several reliable sources has been revised downward to 24. If this holds, it is a low level of fatalities for this type of tornado. It validates the quality of the warning.


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.

Here is the watch:
It was issued at 1:10pm, 2 hours and ten minutes before the tornado struck Moore at approximately 3:20pm CDT.

I don't know the exact moment the warning was issued, but it was posted on my blog at 2:46pm. That means there was at least 34 minutes of warning for Moore. The national average is twelve.

The NWS had the tornado warning out 16 minutes before the tornado ever touched the ground (see map below and radar loop, purple link).

I listened to an OKC radio station, KTOK, and they were in wall-to-wall coverage long before the tornado arrived. My ex-television station KFOR TV was on national television and they did their usual great job! The background audio of live reports carried the sound of the sirens.

In addition, the enhanced tools of meteorology like debris balls, "tornado debris signatures," and wind velocity centers pointed to the exact path of the storm. These were provided to enhance the meteorological certainty to people in the storm's path. If you would like to see a high-definition time lapse of all of this on radar, please click here.

So, it looks like weather science did its job.

Based on preliminary reports, the death toll may be high. A comment: Having lived in the area I can state that virtually none of the homes have basements. This tornado will almost certainly be rated F-5. Unless you are underground or in an reinforced safe room, those in the path of the F-5 winds can be killed in spite of the warnings as a closet does not provide enough protection when a home is flattened. This tornado was so strong, debris from Moore is currently falling (8pm) on Branson, Missouri.

ADDITION: Just after I finished this posting, multiple news organizations have reported the Oklahoma Medical Examiner says 51 fatalities 24 fatalities (updated 9:10am Tuesday) have occurred. Reports of 120 hospitalized.

Here is a more precise map of the path.

The Atlantic has an excellent backgrounder on tornadoes.


  1. I was able to watch the entire storm on TV and over the web. Early on when the tornado had become a wedge, but was still quite defined and visible, one of the chasers sitting still had people zipping past him headed west directly into the path. They even commented about these drivers. Only so much meteorologists can do to keep the fatalities down.

  2. Correct, Mike. We can only play our role.

  3. Death toll now up to 90 this morning and likely to go higher. Years ago I read an online essay about the 1999 outbreak that killed 36 people in Moore and OKC, that said it was probably the LOWEST possible death toll for a tornado of that intensity striking such a heavily populated metro area. (The population of Moore is 55,000, slightly larger than Joplin's 49-50,000.)

    The '99 twister had a longer warning lead time because it touched down farther away from the city and was on the ground for more than an hour before it reached Moore. Also, it hit between 6:30 and 7 p.m., when children were home from school and adults home from work. So in some ways, May 3 (1999) was a "best case" scenario while yesterday was "worst case."

    I'm kind of curious, though, as to why SPC stated that the risk of EF2 or higher tornadoes was "low" in this watch, when they had a hatched outlook area in place (indicating elevated risk of strong/violent tornadoes) and meteorologists, chasers, etc. had been talking up the tornado potential in that region for days ahead of time.


  4. Elaine: I have several concerns about the watches the last few days. But, now is not the time. I think we need to be focused helping them recover.


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