What you need to know about the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma

By now, you've no doubt heard of the tornado that hit Moore, Oklahoma, causing extensive damage. The number of fatalities remains unknown. I have seen reports of as many 91 and as low as 24. The number of injured is in the hundreds. Many remain missing.

Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic put together a fantastic backgrounder with answers to some of the most common questions following a storm like this.

According to people on Twitter, a meteorologist for the local news station KFOR called the tornado “the worst tornado in the history of the world.”

Colin Schultz at Scientific American notes that though the Moore tornado wasn't the worst, what set it apart was, "its combination of size, strength and duration."

One factor that really set today’s Moore tornado apart was its staggering size. According to The New York Times, today’s tornado was “perhaps a mile wide.”

On top of its massive girth, today’s tornado was also incredibly strong. The Associated Press reports that wind speeds in the twister hit upwards of 199 miles per hour (320 kilometers per hour). The record holder, says NOAA, saw winds peaking at 302 miles per hour (486 kilometers per hour.) That storm, unfortunately, hit pretty much the exact same place as this one. It swept just north of Moore on May 3, 1999.

YouTube user Charles Cook captured this incredible footage of "the birth of the tornado." In the five minute clip, you see the cloud rotation, the initial touchdown, a few moments of a classic, cyclone shape and then as the tornado picks up dirt and debris it grows larger and becomes more like the mile-wide monster it eventually became.

NOTE: the audio quality is very bad. Mute or decrease your speaker volume.

After the storm passed, media began documenting the scale of the destruction:



Associated Press photographer Sue Ogrocki wrote about her experience photographing the rescue of trapped children:

I expected chaos as I approached the piles of bricks and twisted metal where Plaza Towers Elementary once stood. Instead, it was calm and orderly as police and firefighters pulled children out one by one from beneath a large chunk of a collapsed wall.

Parents and neighborhood volunteers stood in a line and passed the rescued children from one set of arms to another, carrying them out of harm's way. Adults carried the children through a field littered with shredded pieces of wood, cinder block and insulation to a triage center in a parking lot.

They worked quickly and quietly so rescuers could try to hear voices of children trapped beneath the rubble.

CBS News captured a moving moment on video when storm victim Barbara Garcia found her dog that was feared dead:

Democracy Now! reported on the storm and interviewed Beverly Allam, "an Oklahoma resident who lives a few miles from Moore and lost everything in the state’s tornado in May 1999" and Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at the Weather Underground.

Douglas Main at LiveScience looked into the weather that caused the recent tornado outbreak:

This follows a relatively calm spring that saw few tornadoes, which is largely due to unusually cold temperatures throughout much of the country. The cold can in turn be blamed on the fact that the jet stream, the ribbon of wind that stretches across the Northern Hemisphere, dipped farther south than usual. This brought with it frigid Arctic air and prevented warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico from advancing northward.

Last week, with the jet stream shifting north and the atmosphere more conducive to tornado formation, an outbreak of an estimated 16 twisters erupted in North Texas on May 15. The tornadoes ranged in strength from an EF-1 in the town of Millsap that caused damage to roofs, to an EF-4 in Granbury that completely destroyed houses.

Susie Cagle at Grists asks, "Can we blame climate change?"

We really like to find reason in chaos, though, and we also like to blame things! At one point today there were several little kids trapped in the rubble of a building in Moore, Okla., that earlier today was their elementary school. If we can’t blame climate change, who can we blame?

Marlene Cimons at Climate Nexus downplays the climate connection:

Global warming is making wet places wetter and dry places drier, and creating moisture-laden air that fuels hurricanes and snowstorms, making them much worse than they otherwise would be in a climate unchanged by human behaviors.

But we can't necessarily say the same the same about tornadoes, at least not yet. The tornado connection to global warming is tenuous, and for several reasons. Chief among them is the fact that climate change apparently affects the two major factors influencing tornadoes — energy and wind shear — in completely opposite ways.

Joe Romm goes deep and looks at the connection between climate change and extreme weather.

Harry J. Enten at The Guardian notes the push/pull dynamic of increased warmth and decreased wind shear caused by global warming:

Climate change is supposed, among other things, to bring warmer and moister air to Earth. That, of course, would lead to more severe thunderstorms and probably more tornadoes. The issue is that global warming is also forecast to bring about less wind shear. This would allow hurricanes to form more easily, but it also would make it much harder for tornadoes to get the full about lift and instability that allow for your usual thunderstorm to grow in height and become a fully fledged tornado.

To date, this has not decreased the number of tornadoes, but it has changed the timing of the tornado season:

it's still not by accident that the six least active and four most active tornado seasons have been felt over the past decade. Another statistic that points to the irregular patterns is that the three earliest and four latest starts to the tornado season have all occurred in the past 15 years.

Basically, we've had this push and pull in recent history. Some years the number of tornadoes is quite high, and some years it is quite low. We're not seeing "average" seasons as much any more, though the average of the extremes has led to no meaningful change to the average number of tornadoes per year.

Brad Plumer at WonkBlog looks into why tornadoes are so hard to predict:

Roughly 16 minutes before a gigantic twister formed near Oklahoma City on Tuesday, the National Weather Service put out a tornado warning. But even those 16 minutes represent an enormous advance for weather science. Back in the 1980s, the average tornado lead time was just 5 minutes. Today, it’s around 13 minutes. And meteorologists are now able to issue storm watches even further in advance, thanks to more powerful computers that allow them to run detailed weather simulations.


However, Alexis Madrigal notes how the National Weather Service's Rick Smith posted a briefing about the risk of damage to schools roughly four hours before the storm that proved to be "eerily precise."


How You Can Help Moore, Oklahoma Tornado Victims
Many outlets have put together pages with links for how you can help. Rather than duplicate those lists, I'll point you to some of the better sources I've found.

NBC News - How to help Oklahoma tornado victims
Mashable - How to help victims of the Oklahoma tornados
MNN - How to help Oklahoma tornado victims

We'll continue to update this post as we learn more.

UPDATE:

Stunning video of a family coming out of their storm shelter to see the wreckage above:

More scenes from Moore, OK.

Andrew Sullivan makes an important point in reacting to the video above of the woman finding her lost dog.

First off: what a great human being. No bullshit, no mawkishness: “I know exactly what happened.” Then the little dog – her second prayer. Sometimes it takes just one tangible story to fully grasp from a distance what these people have just experienced. And to see the hidden values – of love and life rather than property – that redeem us even after that horror.

Tags: Weather