All Weather News

20th Anniversary of the Oklahoma and Kansas Tornado Outbreak

3 May 2019, 8:44 am

[A tornado near the Bridge Creek, OK area on May 3, 1999, rated at F5 strength. Credit: NWS Norman general forecaster Erin Maxwell via NOAA.]

20 years ago on May 3rd, 1999, a total of 74 tornadoes touched down across Oklahoma and Kansas in less than 21 hours. Multiple supercells produced the tornadoes, and at one point, there were as many as four tornadoes reported on the ground at the same time.

[View of damage in Moore, Oklahoma after the F5 tornado. From NWS Norman]

The strongest tornado, rated a maximum F-5 on the Fujita Tornado Scale, tracked for nearly an hour and a half along a 38-mile path from Chickasha through south Oklahoma City and the suburbs of Bridge Creek, Newcastle, Moore, Midwest City and Del City. The tornado produced record breaking wind speeds, recorded on Doppler Radar of 301 mph. 36 people died from this tornado.

[Residents search through the rubble for belongings after tornadoes leveled their homes. FEMA Photo by Andrea Booher]

A tornado rated at F4 strength moved through Haysville and Wichita, Kansas. It was down for over an hour with a path of 24 miles. This violent tornado killed 6 individuals along with damaging 150 homes and 27 businesses.

[Picture of the Haysville / Wichita, Kansas tornado from near the Wellington exit on I-35. Credit: Jeff House via NWS Wichita]

As the skies cleared, the two states counted 46 dead and 800 injured, more than 8000 homes damaged or destroyed, and total property damage of nearly $1.5 billion. The total tornado count in Oklahoma makes the May 3-4, 1999 tornado outbreak the largest ever recorded in the state.

[A map of the deadly tornadoes from May 3rd, 1999. From NWS Norman]

Despite these grim statistics, researchers estimate that more than 600 lives were saved as a result of timely and accurate warnings and the public’s knowledge of tornado safety. The National Severe Storms Laboratory and other NOAA Research laboratories and joint institutes helped develop some of the primary tools used by the National Weather Service to forecast and nowcast the Oklahoma/ Kansas tornado outbreak. These tools include the NEXRAD Doppler radar, the Advanced Weather Interactive Processing System, the Warning Decision Support System and NOAA’s Profiler Network.

[First ever Tornado Emergency issued by the NWS in Norman, along with a radar view of the F5 tornado located near Bridge Creek, Oklahoma. From NWS Norman]

Information from NWS Norman, NWS Wichita, and NSSL

For WeatherNation: Meteorologist Mace Michaels