NORMAN — In a state so accustomed to highly variable and often tumultuous weather, this May will be remembered as one of its most notorious. The month began with some of the coldest late-spring weather in the state’s history and finished with violent weather, including one of Oklahoma’s worst tornado disasters on record.
Stirring the echoes of May 3, 1999, for many central Oklahoma residents, a massive and violent EF-5 tornado churned its path of destruction from near Newcastle through south Oklahoma City and Moore before dissipating near Stanley Draper Lake.
The tornado had winds estimated at more than 200 mph and reached a maximum damage width of 1.3 miles. State officials confirmed 24 fatalities. The storm injured more than 300 others, with preliminary damage estimates totaling more than $2 billion along its 17-mile, 40-minute path. The twister destroyed two Moore elementary schools, killing seven children at Plaza Towers Elementary and injuring many others. One day before that event, a violent EF-4 twister traveled from east Norman to near McLoud, causing two fatalities.
While numbers are still preliminary, the National Weather Service counted at least 19 tornadoes between the two days. Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management officials estimated that the two-day barrage impacted 2,937 homes, businesses and non-residential buildings. The severe weather was far from over. May’s final three days saw a flurry of dangerous weather, culminating on its final day. A large, tornadic supercell spawned several tornadoes from El Reno to Moore to southeast Oklahoma City.
A preliminary count of nine fatalities from those tornadoes, including two children, brought the year’s tally to at least 35. That ties 2013 with 1960 as Oklahoma’s second deadliest tornado year since 1950, bested only by 1999’s 42 fatalities.
The stationary supercell produced prolific rainfall amounts across Oklahoma City and resulted in widespread flash flooding. At least two deaths were blamed on flash flooding from the event, with more possible as searches continued.