Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Friday in El Reno: A "Super Tornado"

This news is breaking fast. As I understand it the 2.6 mile with with EF-5 winds (296 mph, second strongest ever measured on earth) is a record. It was measured by the University of Oklahoma's RaXPol data. When I have more, I will post it.
National Weather Service, Norman

I have heard that Tim Samaras was deploying probes in the path of the tornado before his tragic death. I hope those probes can be recovered so we can learn more about this storm.

For the last two years, I have been doing presentations about a unique category of tornado I defined as a Super Tornado. The most recent presentation was in Atlanta on May 9 to an audience of contingency planners that  included FEMA representatives and emergency managers. Below are a few of the slides that form the presentation:

This concept was sprung up from my research writing Warnings, as Greensburg was not the strongest tornado that night. There were two super tornadoes northeast of Greensburg in extremely rural areas. I thought, "What would happen if one of these ever struck a city?!"

As I define them, they are two miles or larger in diameter and F-5 intensity.  My point is to make responsible officials aware that this type of storm is going to require a completely different magnitude of response than the ordinary tornado. To cite just one example, how are you going to get victims near the center of the path out? Can't drive an ambulance, the tires would puncture. Not enough helicopters in most all metro areas.

I've also done this presentation for the insurance and reinsurance industries. The bottom slide shows an analysis of the 1999 Bridge Creek-Moore tornado superimposed on Dallas. Easily a $15 billion storm.

If you enlarge (click on it) the map at the top, you'll see Friday's tornado bent around (see here, scroll down for an explanation of this seemingly odd movement) the populated part of El Reno. Yet, it killed many people. In a densely populated area, this would be hellish.

The September 11th Commission used the phrase "failure of imagination" to describe why we weren't ready in spite of the indicators. I use that same phrase, with credit, in these presentations. I fear there may be a similar failure of imagination regarding Super Tornadoes. Now is the time to think this through and prepare. 

What does a 2.6 mile wide tornado with 296 mph winds look like for Wichita? I've taken the path of the May 19, 2013, F-3 from where it lifted and extrapolated it across the city. Utter destruction including downtown. As I've said before, we really dodged a bullet that day.
click to enlarge
And, from @dcrobtv, here is Washington, D.C.,

When (and it is "when," not, "if") this occurs, you will not believe the horror. We, as a society, need to make contingency plans. 

If you wish to see the ground scar left by the giant tornado in the rural area by clicking here.


  1. Hello Mike,

    I've read your books and often promote your blog. I am a life long weather enthusiast and trained storm spotter for the area I live in and noticed this:

    With your research on the classification of a very rare type of tornado aka "Super Tornado" (or as I called them, a "Vornado"...for whatever reason) I wondered if in this scenario the newer wording the NWS uses for Tornado Warnings would be appropriate.

    I know in past you noted that the wording seemed unnecessary or confusing. A tornado warning for a small funnel is the same as a tornado warning for the "super tornado". But, in a way, is this wording now somewhat justified for storms such as these? I suppose the issue becomes how one can classify the storm correctly but you noted in an alternate article that we would need much more processing power and more government investing.

    Regardless, just an observation I am seeing based on the information provided. Thanks for your time and keep up the great work.


  2. Hi Pete,

    I would be fine with the new wording if we knew how to 'warn' of these. While it was a "particularly dangerous situation" tornado watch (more on the blog on that shortly), there is no science that can lead meteorologists to say, "an EF-5 tornado that will be 2.6 miles wide will hit El Reno" in ten minutes. Plus, what do we want people to do differently? We don't have a second set of safety rules.

    So, until we have the science and differing safety rules, I consider ALL tornado warnings to be "emergencies" and I do not believe there should be different categories of warnings. My opinion is subject to change as the science evolves.

    Thanks for reading my books and blog!!



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