The tornado that killed 18 people in and around El Reno, Oklahoma on Friday, including three professional tornado researchers and an amateur storm chaser, was a record 2.6 miles wide, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).Path of the May 31, 2013 tornado in El Reno, Oklahoma.
(Source: NWS Forecast Office, Norman, Oklahoma)
The NWS in Norman, Oklahoma posted the image above to its Facebook page Tuesday. In addition to being the widest tornado in U.S. history, the El Reno tornado was also rated an EF-5 with winds “well over 200 mph,” the Norman NWS stated on Facebook.
According to a blog post by Jason Samenow of the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang, the previous record width of a tornado was 2.5 miles, belonging to the Wilber-Hallam, Nebraska twister of May 22, 2004. It was rated EF-4 in Hallam, south of Lincoln, and damaged or destroyed about 95 percent of the village of 200 people, killing one person and injuring 37.
Friday’s tornado in El Reno, a small city just west of Oklahoma City, was upgraded to an EF-5 on the 0-5 Enhanced Fujita Scale not because of its size but because of radar-measured winds in its enormous vortex of nearly 300 mph.
According to Samenow’s post, radar teams headed by renowned tornado researchers Howard Bluestein of the University of Oklahoma and Josh Wurman of the Center for Severe Weather Research were near the El Reno tornado gathering data. Bluestein said two of his graduate students measured winds of 296 mph in the tornado’s funnel, while Wurman’s team observed winds of 246-258 mph. Both teams were scanning the tornado with mobile Doppler radars, but from different locations.
The violent and deadly El Reno tornado occurred less than two weeks and a mere 20 miles from the EF-5 tornado that devastated Moore, Oklahoma on May 20. Two dozen people lost their lives in that tornado. It brought hard luck and hard lessons back to Moore, crossing the path of the infamous EF-5 tornado of May 3, 1999. Wurman’s Doppler on Wheels radar clocked winds in the 1999 Moore tornado at over 300 mph.
Over the weekend, numerous media outlets (KFOR-TV, CNN, The Weather Channel), cable TV channel websites (NatGeo, The Discovery Channel), and blog posts (Capital Weather Gang, Weatherunderground) covered the shocking news of the first-ever deaths of storm chasers by a tornado. Tim Samaras, a professional storm chaser and tornado researcher for nearly 30 years and an Associate Member of the AMS, along with his photographer son Paul and researcher Carl Young were killed when their chase vehicle was violently thrown and mangled by the El Reno tornado. The Daily Oklahoman reported Tuesday that amateur storm chaser Richard Charles Henderson was killed the same way. His pickup truck was overrun by the tornado winds moments after he sent a friend a cellphone photo of the El Reno tornado.