13.6 Disaster Averted: Hypothetical Tornado Paths after the El Reno Tornado of 31 May 2013

Thursday, 6 November 2014: 10:15 AM
Madison Ballroom (Madison Concourse Hotel)
Gabriel S. Garfield, CIMMS/Univ. of Oklahoma, Norman, OK

On 20 May 2013, a large and violent tornado ravaged the southern Oklahoma City suburb of Moore. Just 11 days later, another large and powerful tornado affected rural areas just west of the metropolis, near the small town of El Reno. Not long after this tornado dissipated, thousands – perhaps tens of thousands – of motorists fled Oklahoma City, likely in response to the dread caused by the Moore tornado. Large traffic jams developed, and some people chose to flee their cars to find adequate shelter. Fortunately, another major tornado did not develop, as many were stranded in the path of this powerful supercell. However, it is clear that – if a violent tornado had developed in Oklahoma City – a disaster of historic proportions would likely have resulted.

Using damage surveys, Doppler radar, traffic numbers, and first-hand accounts, the response during the El Reno is documented. Additionally, several hypothetical scenarios are considered to illustrate the potential for catastrophic loss of life. It is noted that – even as “lead time” increases – the non-linear nature of public response may not allow for a monotonic reduction in tornado fatalities (in the absence of communications research). With the advent of warning-improvement programs like “Warn-on-Forecast”, it will become necessary to understand the relationship between weather communication and public response.

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