May 3rd was the eighth anniversary of the 1999 F5 tornado that travelled through, smashing everything in its path and killing anyone who couldn't get out of the way and wasn't under enough shelter. Wrote about it a couple of years ago, with some of the specifics. A mile wide on the ground at its greatest strength, one of those natural forces that demonstrates every so often just how small our efforts generally are in comparison.
What a lot of people don't realize is what an outbreak happened that day. Something like seventy tornados were noted by either radar indications or ground reports. As I recall, there was one they think was another F5, but that one had a much shorter path and was out in the boonies, doing very little damage.
Thanks to lots of warning(the weather weenies here are pretty good at tornados and severe thunderstorms) from radar, stormchasers and- soon as they could get into the air- choppers tailing it, the death count was far smaller than it could have been. A similar strength storm
hit the town of Woodward(and other places) on April 9, 1947. From the NWS records:
The tornado that would strike Woodward began near Canadian, TX. Moving northeast, it continued on the ground continuously for about 100 miles, ending in Woods County, Oklahoma, west of Alva. The tornado was massive, up to 1.8 miles wide, and traveled at forward speeds of about 50 miles per hour. It first struck Glazier and Higgins in the Texas Panhandle, devastating both towns and producing at least 69 fatalities in Texas before crossing into Oklahoma. In Ellis County, Oklahoma, the tornado did not strike any towns, passing to the southeast of Shattuck, Gage, and Fargo. Even though no towns were struck, nearly 60 farms and ranches were destroyed and 8 people were killed with 42 more injured. Moving into Woodward County, one death was reported near Tangier.
The violent tornado (F5 on the Fujita Scale) unleashed its worst destruction on Woodward, striking the city without warning at 8:42 pm. Over 100 city blocks on the west and north sides of the city were destroyed with lesser damage in the southeast portion of the town. Confusion and fires reigned in the aftermath with over 1000 homes and businesses destroyed, at least 107 people killed in and around Woodward, and nearly 1000 additional injuries.
No radar to warn, no local meteorologists familiar with the history and terrain of the area. Something like that hitting the same path as the May 3rd storm would have killed hundreds. As it is, the damn things can form and drop so fast that even with Doppler radar and all the other fancies, they can surprise everyone.
Greensburg, KS took the hit this time. Some dead, a lot more injured, and much of the town destroyed. I say 'some dead' because they won't have a final count for days, most likely; takes time to search through a mess like that. And, just to add to the joy, NWS says:
A SIGNIFICANT SEVERE WEATHER OUTBREAK...INCLUDING THE POSSIBILITYNot going to be a good night for a whole lot of people.
OF LONG-TRACK AND VIOLENT TORNADOES...ARE EXPECTED OVER PARTS OF THE
CENTRAL PLAINS THIS AFTERNOON AND TONIGHT...
THE NWS STORM PREDICTION CENTER IN NORMAN OK IS FORECASTING THE
DEVELOPMENT OF A SIGNIFICANT SEVERE WEATHER OUTBREAK OVER PARTS OF
THE CENTRAL PLAINS THIS AFTERNOON AND TONIGHT.
THE AREAS MOST LIKELY TO EXPERIENCE THIS ACTIVITY INCLUDE
SURROUNDING THE HIGH RISK AREA...THERE IS ALSO A POTENTIAL FOR VERY
LARGE HAIL...DAMAGING WINDS AND STRONG TORNADOES FROM SOUTHERN SOUTH
DAKOTA SOUTHWARD INTO WESTERN OKLAHOMA AND THE EXTREME EASTERN TEXAS