As I’ve been glued to KFOR’s live tornado coverage for the last hour or so, reporters on the scenes in Oklahoma City and Moore have been using very basic terms like “gone” and “just dirt” to describe the devastation following today’s estimated EF4 or EF5 storms. Search and rescue missions are currently underway, as people are combing through the remains of homes and commercial buildings, including schools, to try to find people. Information is very sparse right now, but Oklahoma City’s news stations and sources are working to deliver accurate information, and KFOR just reported that there are six confirmed fatalities. (UPDATE: The death toll is now believed to be 30, as 24 children are believed to be deceased in the Plaza Towers Elementary School rubble.)
KFOR’s chief meteorologist Mike Morgan took a moment to compare today’s tornadoes to those of the Oklahoma outbreak from between May 3 and May 6, 1999, and he estimated that the severity and power of today’s weather events could be three times as powerful. In that storm, an estimated 72 tornadoes were created, with the strongest being a category F5. And, as you can see in the image above, the paths then and now were somewhat similar.
In all, the tornadoes of 1999 were responsible for 44 deaths and approximately $1.5 billion in damage, making it the most costly tornado in American history until the EF5 multiple-vortex tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri on May 22, 2011. Approximately 158 people were killed in that severe weather event and damages exceeded $2.8 billion.
The Red Cross is encouraging people to visit www.safeandwell.org for people to either register themselves “safe and well” or search for loved ones in order to assist with providing answers in this chaotic period.
Additionally, the University of Oklahoma is opening up spaces for families that have either lost their homes or have been displaced, and people can receive more information by calling (405) 325-2511.