May 3, 2009 is the 10th Anniversary of the THE most destructive tornado in Unites States history, based on dollar damages. This is the central Oklahoma tornado more often known as the Moore Tornado of May 3, 1999.
It was a very unstable day weather-wise and a tornado outbreak was in the forecast, but forecasting an EF-5 is next to impossible. Rotating (Supercell) thunderstorms began forming in SW Oklahoma near Lawton several hours before the OKC metro area was hit.
Spotters tagged the twister on the ground well south of Oklahoma City near Chickasha, OK shortly after 6pm. By then, tornadoes were popping all over central Oklahoma, but this one was destined to be the “mammoth” of the day. It continued northeast and its intensity continued to climb until it reached the maximum rating of F-5 (this corresponds to EF-5 on the newer scale). The F-5 level was reached just as it approached Bridge Creek, Oklahoma, which was just a small community in 1999 situated southwest of “The City”, as Oklahoma City is often called.
This incredible EF-5 tornado contained the highest measured surface wind speeds recorded on the planet. At Bridge Creek, winds detected by a Doppler on Wheels (DOW) mobile weather radar unit were clocked at 301mph! There is a 20mph range of error on that number so it’s anywhere from 281 to 321 mph…making this a world record surface wind speed. About a half hour later, the tornado was chopping its way through a densely populated suburb of Oklahoma City: Moore.
The twister ground its way through Moore with winds of some 250mph. The damage path varied from a few hundred yards to close to a mile in width. Thousands of structures were utterly destroyed or severely damaged. This was the stuff of an extreme disaster in the making. The tornado continued northeast as an F-4, cutting across the northwestern portion of Tinker AFB. Shorly thereafter, it rapidly weakened and dissipated . It had done its deadly business.
Despite the apocalyptic damage, loss of life was relatively low: 35 individuals perished in the storm. This is directly related to the excellent warning network in place that both local media and the National Weather Service used that day.
In the category of destruction, it was a different story. Total damage exceeded a billion dollars, making this number one on the list of destructive U.S. tornadoes.
Here’s a tally of the damage in the OKC metro area from the Moore Tornado:
Homes destroyed: 1,780 / Homes damaged: 6,550
Apartments destroyed: 473 / Apartments damaged: 568
Businesses destroyed: 85 / Businesses damaged: 42
Churches destroyed: 3
Schools destroyed: 2