1999 Oklahoma tornadoes break record

With more than four months to go in 1999, Oklahoma has already experienced more tornadoes than any previous year on record, according to forecasters at the National Weather Service Forecast Offices in Norman and Tulsa.

Since the first of January, 115 tornadoes have occurred in the state, surpassing the previous yearly tornado record of 107 set in 1957. The National Weather Service has been keeping detailed records since 1950.

A majority of this year’s tornadoes – 74 to be exact – occurred on May 3 and 4 during a deadly outbreak that killed 42, injured about 640 and caused almost a billion dollars worth of damage as it swept across the Sooner state. That outbreak helped set a new state record for the month of May with a total of 87, shattering the previous monthly record of 61 that had held since 1960.

“The unusually strong outbreak in early May is the reason for this record setting number,” said Jim Purpura, Norman office warning coordination meteorologist. “Simply put, the right conditions were present to cause a large number of tornadoes on May 3 and 4. We don’t believe it necessarily has anything to do with El Nino, La Nina or other unusual weather phenomena.”

Another reason for the record number may be the work put into reporting and recording tornado damage by forecasters and researchers. “Today, a great deal of effort is put into collecting information on all tornadoes that occur, much more than would have been done 30 or 40 years ago,” Purpura said. “In fact, the May tornadoes could turn out to be the most studied outbreak in history from a research perspective.”

The total numbers for the year so far are preliminary, he cautions, but forecasters expect them to increase as final details of reports are gathered. He also warns that more tornadoes could occur this fall.

Steve Piltz, Tulsa NWS warning coordination meteorologist adds, “Oklahoma often experiences at least a few tornadoes in the fall. For instance, the largest October outbreak of tornadoes ever seen across the U.S. – 26 – occurred in Oklahoma last year on October 4,1998.”

Purpura and Piltz remind all Oklahomans to be prepared for severe weather. One of the best ways to stay safe is to keep up with the latest forecasts, especially severe weather outlooks, watches and warnings, and to heed those warnings, they said. Also, they encourage everyone — families, businesses, schools and public facilities — to have an emergency plan for when a tornado warning is issued.

The 1999 OK tornado data is available online at: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/oun/tornadodata/tornado99_ok.html and http://www.srh.noaa.gov/oun/tornadodata/tornado99_oun.html.

Online information about the May 3, 1999 tornado outbreak and tornado safety information is available from the Norman National Weather Service Forecast Office at http://www.srh.noaa.gov/oun/, the Tulsa National Weather Service Forecast Office at http://www.nwstulsa.noaa.gov and the National Weather Service Southern Region Headquarters, http://www.srh.noaa.gov.