Shared May 20, 2016
Coming on the heels of the highly destructive May 19, 2013 severe weather event in central Oklahoma—which included strong to violent tornadoes in the Edmond, Carney, Wellston, east Norman, Bethel Acres, and Shawnee areas—May 20 began as yet another day with an atmosphere primed for explosive severe thunderstorms in the southern Great Plains. Still, despite everything we understood about the potential that day, what we ultimately experienced was hard to accept. It still is.
Early in the afternoon, a supercell thunderstorm erupted in a region of extreme instability, along an outflow boundary leftover from the previous day’s storms. This storm very quickly became tornadic, with an initial tall, sharp-edged, cone-shaped tornado forming over the town of Newcastle—another central Oklahoma town with its own history of damaging tornadoes. As experienced storm chasers, we instantly recognized that the tornado was likely very strong, even while initially observing its slender, early stages from several miles to the east; as Cleveland County residents who are very familiar with the geography of southwest Oklahoma City and Moore, we were immediately concerned that we were about to witness yet another tornado tragedy for our community.
This is an extended, near-continuous sequence, beginning with the tornado’s initial touchdown in Newcastle (observed from a distance of approximately 7 miles). We approached the tornado from the east, along Indian Hills Road, and eventually turned north onto Pennsylvania Ave., where we observed the large, wedge-shaped tornado for approximately 10 minutes, as it moved from McClain County, across the Canadian River, and into southwest Oklahoma City and western Moore. Eventually we moved farther north along Penn., and turned east onto 164th, where we came within approximately ¼ mile of the tornadic circulation. This was an incredible vantage point for observing this very violent tornado’s ground circulation, and especially for experiencing the tornado’s otherworldly roar, but it was also a particularly dangerous position to be in, given the tremendous amounts of debris being ejected from much higher up in the storm. Roofing material, sheet metal, and siding were continuously raining down around us, along with insulation and other smaller debris particles, as we flanked the tornado for several miles along 164th.
What we were experiencing was quite apparent; Dave’s earliest tornado observations include May 3, 1999, and May 8, 2003, and we are both well versed in the subject of historic, significant tornadoes. This was also not our first EF-5. This time, though, friends were suffering serious property damage; businesses we frequented were in danger of being destroyed; and, schools were being leveled while children were inside. We dropped the storm at I-35, wanting nothing more to do with it as we realized the terrible devastation unfolding, yet again, in a community we knew and loved.
Copyright 2013, David Demko and Heidi Farrar, weatherbeat.net
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