I wrote my case study on the Newcastle-Bridge Creek-Moore Tornado: An EF5, 3/4 mile wide, violent storm which devastated Oklahoma City and its surrounding counties. It claimed 36 lives, injured 583, damaged 2,500 houses, and completely destroyed another 1,800. In total, it caused the equivalent of $1.1 billion in loss, making it the fifth costliest tornado in history. Additionally, Doppler on Wheels radar allowed for the highest wind speeds ever recorded globally to be measured during this tornado at 301 mph. The 1999 Moore Tornado belonged to the Great Plains Tornado Outbreak, which in itself was a collection of massive super cell storms which in total spawned 74 tornadoes in a 21 hour time period. Additionally, Moore was also the central victim to an EF3-4 tornado in 2003, and another EF5 in 2013, which I touched on in my paper in order to compare and contrast mitigation and how the community itself remains resilient.
Simply put, the mother storm which produced the Moore tornado was the result of humid air, very high atmospheric instability, and strong wind shear. Beginning just after 6:00 AM, a “slight risk” warning for severe weather was published by the Norman forecasting station, fewer than 10 miles from Moore. Over the next 9 hours, 116 bulletins/announcements from various stations gradually upgraded the warning from slight risk, to moderate risk, to high risk, to, finally, a tornado warning. The tornado touched down in Central Grady County. Generally, it rampaged from Amber, to northern Newcastle, to the southern sections of Oklahoma City, to Moore, through Oklahoma City once again, to Del City, and, finally, into Midwest City. Two smaller, satellite tornadoes also rotated around the main one, adding to the damage. The tornado was on the ground for an astonishing 1 hour, 26 minutes before dissipating.
Oklahomans were no strangers to tornados, including a few of high caliber. NOAA had also recently undergone a technological upheaval, which modernized stations and equipped meteorologists with new technologies to aid in forecasting/monitoring these storms. Clearly, a small city perfectly situated in the middle of Tornado Alley knew something about its risk, and post-disaster interviews described how the city felt a false sense of security for a few reasons. First, it had prepared with safety drills and public education. Second, the majority of the public felt “tornado apathy,” meaning that many tornado watches and warnings had been issued in the past, and very few of them actually produced any tornado at all. Additionally, a few citizens had private storm shelters. Many residents of Moore had experienced EF0/EF1/EF2 tornados in their lifetimes, and could not comprehend the level of destruction this one event would cause. These factors, more than demographic statistics, influenced Moore’s vulnerability. One particular story described a family who sought shelter in an inner hallway to their home. The only walls left standing after the tornado had passed were those encasing them. Additionally, among the 36 deaths, several of them were children in an elementary school without storm shelters, sparking later debate and policy about how to best protect kids at school in the event of severe weather. Furthermore, many others who sought ill-advised shelter beneath the surrounding interstates were crushed.
The damage path stretched 1,300 feet wide. In the immediate aftermath of the disaster, Moore received local, state, and federal workers, volunteers, and aid. Emergency shelters originally housed 1,600, and mobile food and donation centers helped sustain those who had lost everything. Main support systems in the emergency phase were FEMA and the state’s National Guard. It took until the beginning of June for volunteers to clear 58% of the debris left behind. Moore’s residents, for the most part, remained there in temporary housing during the rebuilding process.
Lastly, the tornado highlighted the need for better alert systems, more storm shelters, stronger building codes, and a change in the way the public perceived their risk in the face of a powerful tornado. With the backing of state government, 6,016 storm shelters and 20+ new warning towers had been built just in time for another EF3-4 tornado in 2003. As a result of these mitigation efforts, no fatalities occurred. However, in 2013, another EF5 tornado struck and followed a remarkably similar path to its 1999 sibling. This tornado claimed the lives of 24 people, and resulted in yet more infrastructure review–mostly centered on a large portion of Moore that had been rebuilt below minimal building standards. Overall, this case study highlights that tornado-proofing is virtually impossible due to financial and structural limitations. However, tornado resiliency can be achieved through the right incentives and interventions.
Pictures of the tornado and wreckage below (Sources: http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/about/history/may3rd/ and http://www.fox23.com/news/a-look-back-on-the-tornado-outbreak-of-may-3-4-1999/255062650)