Following Up on the El Reno Tornado Controversy

Before reading this, it would be helpful to read the posting below.

I had a reader contact me via Facebook and (paraphrasing) express concern that I was making too much of this because there are no nuclear power plants planned in tornado alley in the near future. That may be true, I didn't research it. But, future nuclear power plants are not the only critical infrastructure affected by extreme winds.
  • Bridges over major rivers (Missouri, Mississippi, etc.). The Eads Bridge over the Mississippi was destroyed by the violent F-5 1896 tornado in St. Louis. What if an interstate highway crossing was destroyed today? The disruption would be enormous.
  • The National Bio- and Agri- Defense Lab proposed at Kansas State University. The goal of this institution is to find ways to protect the world's food supply from terrorism and natural threats. As such, they will have what I would call "weaponized organisms" that could wreak havoc if they escaped containment. I'm all in favor of the facility provided it is designed to withstand the strongest tornadoes.
  • Government facilities that house nuclear weapons
  • The nuclear engineering facility in the Texas Panhandle known as PANTEX
  • Plus, the existing nuclear power plants must be hardened to the known top winds of the most violent tornadoes. In the 1990's, a tornado struck the Bessie-Davis nuclear power plant putting it on "alert" level. The plant lost communications with the outside world
By downgrading the El Reno tornado with its (measured by multiple portable radars with 290 mph winds) because it didn't hit anything at the time the winds were measured could mislead engineers as to the likelihood of extreme winds. 

A mobile Doppler radar measured 318 mph winds in the 1999 Moore tornado. Downgrading the El Reno storm could -- to a non-meteorologist unaware of this controversy two years from now -- lead one to think the 318 mph was an extreme outlier that can be discarded. Obviously, in view of the peak 294 mph measured in El Reno, the 318 is not an outlier. The strongest 1% of tornadoes produce extreme winds. To a building designer what, exactly, does "over 200 mph" (the top of the EF-Scale) mean? What number does he/she pick?

If you lived near one of these facilities would you want it designed for "over 200mph"or 318 mph? I know which I would pick.


  1. Hi Mike,
    As the Chief Meteorologist at KFOR TV in OKC since 1990 I have worked 13 F4 or F5 tornadoes in the OKC METRO ALONE. The statistical probability of an "extreme upper end" tornado disaster in OKC is positively measurable and is a real threat. I will site the very, very near "misses" of such potential in the tornadoes of Bridgecreek-Moore 5.3.99, Mulhall 5.3.99, Chickasha-Newcastle 5.24.11, El Reno-Piedmont 5.24.11, and El Reno 5.31.13 as 5 real world examples IN THE OKC METRO just since 1999. In real time practice I have been gradually transitioning away from the EF Scale since 2009 in favor of the F Scale.....I will site fine examples by you in the past 24 hours on this blog site as largely the reasoning for doing just that. The people of central Oklahoma need clarity of thought in regards to the tornado threat that we live with....not confusion over whether a 2.6 mile wide violent multi vortex tornado is an F5 or an EF3. The scientific meteorological community in central Oklahoma is mostly (largely or nearly unanimously?) quite conflicted by this recent national NOAA decision of "downgrading" the El Reno tornado. IMO, this same community needs to clear the smoke and reinstate the original F Scale....thereby allowing in situ wind measurements into the tornado database. Otherwise the message to the public will continue to be diluted which in turn will form public and local/state government opinion which in turn will NOT be even close to a realistic mindset as to the threat central Oklahoma will always be subjected to each April, May and June.


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