The National Weather Service out of Norman, OK delivered some staggering news about last Friday's tornado near El Reno and Union City, OK. The tornado has been upgraded to an EF-5 tornado with a maximum width of 2.6 miles. That makes this tornado the widest known tornado on record. Here's an image of the monster tornado from storm chaser Jeff Gonzales.
The previous record-holder for widest tornado was the F-4 Wilber-Hallam, Nebraska, tornado of May 22, 2004 with a maximum width of 2.5 miles. The El-Reno was double the width of the May 20, Moore , OK tornado, which was also an EF-5.
Here's a look at the path of the twister. It was on the ground for 16.2 miles beginning at 6:03 PM and ended at 6:43 PM. You can see the massive tornado went between both El Reno and Union City sparing both towns.
The tornado was upgraded from an EF-3 to an EF-5 based on velocity radar data from a mobile radar unit from the University of Oklahoma RAXPOL Radar. The radar measured low level winds of an incredible 296 mph. That is some incredible force! The El Reno tornado is the 60th EF5 or F5 tornado since 1950 in the U.S. Of those, 8 have occurred in OK...two of them within the past two weeks.
This was the same tornado that took the lives of veteran storm chasers Tim Samaras, his son Paul, and fellow chaser Carl Young. The news of their passing was a huge shock and blow to the meteorology community. They started the organization TWISTEX in the hope to collect data and learn more about these awesome forces of nature. The data and information would be used to improve tornado forecasts and warnings. Several friends of mine at Iowa State went along with Tim and the TWISTEX crew each summer. I've seen him speak a few times at weather conferences. Each time he talked the room, everyone was captivated by the information he presented. I also have shown some of his videos at school talks I go to. He used a very large camera to capture lightning at 1.4 million frames per second. The video is awesome! Kids always get a kick out of it and so do I. Tim put a big stamp on tornado research and will have a lasting contribution to the science of meteorology. That part of him will live on. My thoughts and prayer go out to those families and friends of those three. Thank you for contribution to the field I love.
Here's more about Tim Samaras and his work from National Geographic.