Severe Weather In the OKC Area Today

We had a sort-of eventful weather day today. We knew there was a significant chance of severe weather due to good model forecasts from the National Weather Service (NWS).

About 1400, we went into the WalMart Neighborhood Market in Edmond; we were in there about 20 minutes. When we left, we immediately noticed towers going up to the west. We went to the Super Target across the street, and were in there 15 minutes; two of the towers were now mature thunderstorms. Very impressive development. By the time we drove home and dropped off Raegan, and then Ian and Erin and I headed out to the Quail Springs Mall area, the entire area was overspread with anvil.

We saw this from the QSM area:

20130519_154012[1]

That’s a wall cloud/funnel directly to the west of the area. Shortly after this, a tornado warning was issued for Oklahoma County, and the sirens went off.

First observation (which I have made previously): the sirens in Oklahoma County are addressable, and should be used as such. A tornado warning for a storm that is at MacArthur and Memorial should not result in sirens blown in Moore. We’ve had sirens blown at the house (which is almost in the dead center of Oklahoma County) for a tornado warning at Cashion (which is as far NW as you can get), and for a storm threatening Newalla (as far southeast as you can get).

Erin was in a Gordman’s, and Ian and I were in a Best Buy, when all this happened. Erin called and told me that her store was locking down, so I had to run down to claim her. Then we ran back to the Best Buy; they locked the store down and wouldn’t let us out for about 30 minutes.

Next observation: I don’t think stores should lock customers up unless there is a no-kidding threat. A storm that has rotation five miles to the west, and is headed northeast, isn’t a threat.

The stores opened up after a bit and we finished our business there. By the time we were done, the storm that had passed us was all the way to Carney and causing damage there. It looks like the storm tracked NE at first, then tracked more ENE, and then turned back to the left to close to NE.

The Metro area was lucky. Storms take a while to get really warmed up. If these storms had initiated another 20 miles to the west, they would have matured earlier, and the EF3/4 damage seen to the east would have happened here. As it was, while there was serious damage to the east, 90% of the terrain is woods, instead of 95% houses.

As it was, the storms were fairly isolated, which means they have full access to heat and moisture as fuel. This also means that rainfall and hail was pretty isolated:

Storm Tracks 19 May 2013

A note for the media: One of the tornadoes crossed Lake Thunderbird. A Channel 9 guy said it was a waterspout. NO. A tornado is a violently rotating column of air, pendant from a cumulonimbus cloud, with a mesocyclone, in contact with the earth; it doesn’t matter whether the earth is dirt or water. Waterspouts are typically pendant from non-supercell cumuliform clouds (a similar structure that occurs on the leading edge of both supercell and non-supercell thunderstorms is called a landspout).

There needs to be a better representation of a tornado on radar. The middle of the “hook” is usually where the tornado is claimed to be, but usually the tornado is actually trailing the hook somewhat; the tornadoes also have a tendency to orbit the parent mesocyclone. If the radar site is close to the storm, and can see the “debris ball”, then that’s essentially ground truth. I wonder if radar beam width can be narrowed enough to find an actual tornado.

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