Oklahoma Climatological Survey and National Weather Service announce state’s top weather events of the century

The Oklahoma Climatological Survey and the National Weather Service Forecast Offices in Norman and Tulsa have prepared a list of Oklahoma’s top weather events of the 20th century.

  1. Dust Bowl, early 1930s. Occurring during the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl ranks among the most significant events of the century nationally because it literally changed the face of the Plains. The period was characterized by extreme heat and drought, especially in 1934 and 1936, with the all-time record high of 113 degrees set at Oklahoma City in August 1936.
  2. Tornado Outbreak, May 3-4, 1999. In terms of sheer numbers of tornadoes (75 in a 21-hour period), this outbreak more than doubled the number of tornadoes during any other Oklahoma outbreak ever recorded. Several tornadoes were rated F4, and the F5 that struck the Oklahoma City metropolitan area was the first such tornado recorded in the state in nearly 20 years. There were 40 deaths and almost 700 injuries. Damage exceeded $1 billion. As a result of their life-saving actions in issuing timely and accurate warnings, the National Weather Service forecast office in Norman was recently awarded a Gold Medal and the Tulsa forecast office was awarded a Silver Medal by the United States Department of Commerce.
  3. Blizzard, February 21-22, 1971. Although this snowstorm was confined to a relatively small part of northwest Oklahoma, the storm total of three feet at Buffalo nearly doubles the maximum storm total of any other snowstorm in Oklahoma history. Winds whipped snow into enormous drifts, forcing some people to use second story windows to get out of their homes.
  4. Woodward Tornado, April 9, 1947. The most deadly tornado in Oklahoma history killed 116 people in Woodward alone, part of a total death toll of 181. This tornado, or perhaps a family of tornadoes, tracked from the Texas panhandle into Kansas.
  5. Tinker Air Force Base Tornadoes, March, 1948. Two direct hits, only five days apart, led to the start of tornado forecasting, which in turn paved the way for all of the scientific and technological advances in severe weather forecasting since. The first tornado hit on March 20, causing over $10 million in damage to the base and prompting officers to launch the very first efforts to predict tornadoes. As a result, the second tornado five days later was predicted accurately by Officers Fawbush and Miller – the first successful tornado forecast in history.
  6. Arctic Cold Wave, December, 1983. Many Oklahomans remember this as one of the most severe bouts of prolonged wind and cold ever. The latter half of the month saw temperatures 20 to 40 degrees below average nearly every day, along with winds that kept wind chills routinely between 0 degrees and -40 degrees. The temperature at Oklahoma City remained below freezing from the evening of the 17th until New Year’s Eve – an all-time record of nearly two weeks. Temperatures dropped to zero or less on four days, never rose out of the single digits on three days, and never rose above the teens on seven days.
  7. Heat Wave, summer, 1980. Well remembered by many Oklahomans as the most prolonged and severe heat wave outside of the Dust Bowl years. The 50 days of triple-digit temperatures at Oklahoma City stands as an all-time record; the maximum of 110 degrees is the hottest day on record outside of the Dust Bowl.
  8. Snowstorm, January 5-7, 1988. This makes the list because of the unprecedented areal coverage of heavy snow. Although the maximum storm total of 17 inches (Hennessey) has been exceeded in several other storms, storm totals exceeded four inches over virtually the entire state, and exceeded six inches over all but a few areas near the Red River and the far western panhandle. The 12.1 inches at Oklahoma City still stands as an all-time record for storm total snowfall.
  9. Flash Flood in Tulsa, May 26-27, 1984 (Memorial Day weekend). Arguably the most significant urban flash flood in Oklahoma history, as rainfall of up to 15 inches (perhaps more – many gages overflowed) pounded the city overnight, leading to 14 deaths. The flood also led to the development of Tulsa’s successful urban flood-plain management and warning system.
  10. Ice Storm, Dec. 25-27, 1987. Ice accumulations up to two inches from near Duncan to Norman to Tulsa left many areas without power for a week or more. Ranks as one of the costliest winter storms on record based on utility records. Honorable mentions….
  11. Flooding, northern Oklahoma, late September and early October, 1986. Remnants of two Pacific tropical cyclones (Newton, then Paine) combined to produce widespread one-week rainfall totals of 10-20 inches across northern Oklahoma, leading to record river flooding.
  12. Blue Norther, November 11, 1911. 11/11/11 is the only date left in the record books on which the existing record high and record low temperatures for the date (83 degrees and 17 degrees) at Oklahoma City occurred on the same day. The temperature fell to 14 degrees on the morning of the 12th – a drop of 69 degrees in less than 24 hours. (Not in top 10 because most other areas, including Tulsa, have since broken one temp record or the other, and other northers have resulted in comparable temperature drops.)
  13. Snyder tornado, May 10, 1905. The death toll of 97 makes this F5 the second deadliest tornado in state history.
  14. Flooding, October 17-21, 1983. Moisture from the remains of Pacific hurricane Tico combined with a frontal system to produce widespread rainfall of 6-15 inches across southwest, central, and northeast Oklahoma, leading to extensive flooding. This event produced the current 24-hour rainfall record at Oklahoma City of 8.95 inches.
  15. Flash Flood, Enid, October 10, 1973. Rainfall of over 15 inches led to nine deaths. Nearly rivals the Tulsa flood of May, 1984 (#9).
  16. Tornado, Antlers, April 12, 1945. The death toll of 69 makes this F5 the third deadliest tornado in state history.

Others…

  • Tornado outbreak, northern Oklahoma, April 26, 1991. This outbreak of strong and violent tornadoes was significant since it marked the first major outbreak using the WSR-88D (NEXRAD) Doppler radar operationally to detect tornadic storms and issue warnings.
  • Tornado outbreak, October 4, 1998. More than 20 tornadoes set a national October record for most tornadoes in a state on a single day.
  • Heavy rain, June, 1989. Many areas exceeded an inch per day for the first half of the month, and set records for monthly rainfall.
  • Flash Flooding, Hydro, June 23-24, 1948 (or so). Unofficial rainfall of over 20 inches in a few hours led to 11 drowning deaths on Highway 66.
  • “Ice Bowl,” late November, 1985. “Bedlam” football (between the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University) was played on a virtual skating rink at Lewis Field in Stillwater as heavy freezing rain and sleet fell throughout the evening game, accompanied by thunder and lightning at times. Freezing rain showers and thunderstorms affected many parts of the state through the day. This may have been the same day that parts of southern Oklahoma were under winter storm warnings and tornado watches at the same time, and when golf ball-size hail was reported in Duncan with a temperature of 33 degrees.
  • Cold front, March 3, 1989. From a high of 74 degrees to a midnight low of 23 degrees, and a morning low of 16 degrees on the 4th, this front rivaled the norther of 11/11/11, but no temperature records were set. Even more interesting was the development of severe thunderstorms that night well behind the cold front – resulting in nickel-size hail with surface temperatures near 20 degrees in central Oklahoma.
  • North Canadian flood, October 13-16, 1923. This flood caused extensive damage to downtown Oklahoma City.