Twister Devastates Oklahoma


Oklahoma Devastated by Twisters
A powerful tornado roared through Oklahoma City on May 20, killing more than 50 people and leaving rescue workers frantically searching for survivors.

This video shows the mile-wide tornado as it swirls near the Oklahoma City suburb of Newcastle.

This video shows the aftermath of the deadly tornado in Moore, Oklahoma.

Discussion Ideas:

  • Look at our “Forces of Nature” interactive. Tornadoes are the first “force of nature” students can explore. Skip to section three, Characteristics of Tornadoes. The second page is “See Tornado Damage.” Tornadoes are measured on the Fujita or Enhanced Fujita scale, which runs from F0 (winds up to 116 kph/72 mph) to F5 (420 kph/261 mph). Have students compare the damage captured in the second Associated Press video above with the damage associated with each level in the Forces of Nature interactive. How would they rate the Moore tornado on the Fujita scale?
    • The damage in Oklahoma matches almost exactly to the damage associated with an F4 tornado in the Forces of Nature interactive, and meteorologists have tentatively identified the Moore tornado as an EF4 (Enhanced Fujita 4), with winds of up to 322 kph (200 mph). The Oklahoman article notes this in the paragraph starting “The debris path . . .”
  • Click on the “Case Studies” tab (top right) in the Forces of Nature interactive. The first case study is of a 1999 Oklahoma tornado, which is also mentioned in coverage of the 2013 twister. Can students identify some similarities and differences between the 1999 and 2013 Oklahoma tornadoes?
    • Similarities
      • This short Associated Press article outlines how the 2013 twister basically followed the path of the 1999 tornado.
      • Both tornadoes struck in May. According to Forces of Nature (section two, “What Causes Tornadoes?”), May generally has more tornadoes than any other month.
      • Both tornadoes struck in the afternoon, between 1 and 3 o’clock.
      • Both tornadoes were measured at about a 4 or 5 on the Fujita or Enhanced Fujita scale.
      • The National Weather Service issued a strong warning, including the rarely used phrase “tornado emergency” in both instances. This short, excellent Oklahoman article outlines what “tornado emergency” means to meteorologists.
    • Differences
      • The 2013 tornado was deadlier, with 51 recorded deaths as of early morning May 21. (The New York Times already puts the fatalities even higher, at 91.) The 1999 tornado has more recorded injuries, but the full measure of damage from the 2013 tornado has yet to be assessed. Rescue crews are still searching for survivors, and hospitals are still treating victims.
  • According to our encyclopedic entry, “the best protection against a tornado is early warning.” Meteorologists at the National Weather Service and the Oklahoma Weather Blog provide up-to-date information on tornadoes and other storms in the area. Using these sources, should Oklahoma or Oklahoma City residents be prepared for more severe weather?
    • Yes. The National Weather Service Map forecasts a “hazardous weather outlook” for central Oklahoma. However, this is not a tornado warning or tornado emergency.
  • Read our activity “Preparing for Extreme Natural Events.” Have any students experienced tornadoes or other extreme natural events? Were they prepared? Does their family have an emergency plan?
  • The 2013 Oklahoma tornado devastated several local schools. Does your school have an emergency plan?
    • One high school profiled in the Oklahoman article protected student athletes from the storm by having them retreat to a locker room, put on football helmets, and crouching on the floor. (It worked.)
    • A day-care facility profiled in the New York Times crowded their pint-sized pupils into fortified restrooms, “draping them with protective covering and singing songs to keep them calm. As the wind ripped the roof off one of the bathrooms and the debris rained down on the children, they remained calm, singing ‘You Are My Sunshine.'” (It worked.)
  • What would students put in emergency-supply kits (recommended in “Preparing for Extreme Natural Events”) for families, classrooms, or communities?
    • FEMA gives you some ideas here.
    • This Oklahoman article, written by a survivor of the 1999 tornado, offers “Six Tips for Tornado Survivors.” This may help inform what to include in emergency kits, including locations of area churches or other shelters, insurance information, and even damage documentation for future tax relief.

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