The human toll of the tornadoes that struck Oklahoma Monday, killing five and injuring more than 50, could potentially have been much worse.
Local weather reports forecast the Oklahoma tornado with remarkable accuracy, pinpointing Monday specifically as the day when the “likelihood exists for a significant severe weather episode in the plains states,” according to a local news report made a day before the tornadoes struck.
With the advance warning, some TV broadcasters dedicated the entire day to storm coverage.
Meteorologists had been tracking the weather system since the previous week. The Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., warned the region that the atmosphere had the right mix of winds, heat, and moisture for tornadoes.
Indeed stormchasers from North Carolina State University, in Oklahoma to study tornadoes, said conditions were ripe.
“The models had been predicting for several days that there would be a severe weather outbreak, so no one was surprised when the Storm Prediction Center put out a high risk in northern Oklahoma and south central Kansas,” writes Casey Letkewicz, a doctoral student in meteorology, in a blog. “All the necessary ingredients were coming together.”
While her team deployed across the Oklahoma City area, trying to box in what she called the “armada” of three tornadoes with instruments and observers, many residents had ample warning to seek shelter.
Interstate 35 was briefly closed at the Oklahoma-Kansas border because toppled tractor trailers were blocking all the lanes. Similarly, the Oklahoma City airport closed when several planes were destroyed.
Forecasts continue to predict weather conducive to tornadoes. Again, they pinpoint specific days as the most threatening. “A better chance for severe weather returns to the picture for Wednesday and possibly into Thursday as another cold front pushes into the area,” a local TV station reports.
Tornado chaser Letkewicz adds: “There’ll be no rest for the weary, as it looks like the next couple of days will also be active.”
• Wire material was used in this report.