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1999-05-03: Moore/OKC - May 3 outbreak

I think because it is the most recent of any of the other events, you can just get away with saying "May 3rd". I know from around my parts, not even 100 miles away from the 5/3/99 epicenter, people wouldn't know exactly what "May 3rd" meant. Maybe the media in OKC dubbed it simply as May 3rd and thus you have been influenced to think and say the same thing.

I really don't think it matters because no matter how you say it, it was still a devastating and life-taking event that will be remembered for quite some time.
I will NEVER forget May 3rd...and I was not there.
I lived in central Washington state at the time and I cyber chased this one well into the night. It was my first real cyber chase and my family thought I lost all my marbles.
I remember being so horrified...:(
No year needs to be mentioned, its etched in memory.

Bobby Prentice

May 3, 1999 Chase Summary

Here is the original storm chase summary I wrote for the May 3, 1999 outbreak:

This has been one of the most INTENSE experiences of my life! We always knew the OKC metro area was due for a major tornado event. Monday was the day. My wife Tracy is still shook up.

We have a lot of family and friends in the OKC metro area. My Aunt Cheryl lives in Midwest City near Rose State College (just north of TIK). Her house was hit but my grandma says damage was "minor." Her next door neighbors were not as lucky. My mobile auto mechanic Ray lives in a trailer park near ground zero in north Moore. My chase was stopped when I hit the damage path near where he lives. I do not know if he is ok. My wife Tracy used to work as an accountant at the SAMS supercenter along I40 in Midwest City. She does not know if her former co-workers are alright or even if SAMS is still standing. My co-worker Karen Winston had her almost completed new house hit. At first we though her house was leveled, but we just found out her house sustained window and shingle damage. She was not living in it at the time. Her neighbors were not so lucky!



I left OKC at 2030z and traveled southwest on I-44 to intercept echoes just southwest of SPS. I stopped short when I intercepted a storm near Elgin. Unfortunately, I was running low on gas (I didn't expect so much so soon), so I stopped for gas at Sterling.

Viewed the RFB and soon a tornado developed around Elgin/Fletcher. Filmed the tornado from about 10 miles away. Too far! Classic tapered cone. I then tried to catch up to the storm and get ahead of it on I-44. Unfortunately, I-44 is a turnpike with few exits. Also, my camcorder kept locking up on me (Jim Leonard, I need to take you up on your offer to borrow your old HI-8!). These lock-ups would haunt me the rest of the day.

Everytime I looked back to my west and southwest I saw an awesome classic supercell updraft with low hanging wall cloud and occasional glimpse of tornadoes. I stopped at the turnpike (I-44) toll booth southwest of Chickasha and filed the birth of the latest wedge. Took lots of video (when working) as well as wide-angle and zoomed-in slide film. Looked like Chickasha was in dire trouble!

I then drove to the northeast exit on the northeast side of Chickasha. Stopped on an overpass and filmed the spectacle. Tornado varied from near wedge, to fat cone, to complete absence of a condensation funnel. I tried to set up my tripod on the overpass, but camcorder kept locking up (#$%^) and a very close cg sent me jumping back into the car. However, the spectacle demanded attention, I took more still and finally got the camcorder to record. Tornado resembled Hesston at this point, but lighting was not quite as good. An awesome satellite rope tornado was apparent to the north and northeast of the fat cone. Finally, the tornado become hidden by the hook to my north and northeast.

Decided not to drive up I-44 and risk getting stuck on an interstate without exits (damn politicians!). Drove east on Hwy9 and set up again at a telecommunications tower near Middleberg. Filmed a true wedge to the west and southwest. Rich Thompson and Roger Edwards drive up and we enjoyed the event together for about 10 minutes. Noted a new wall cloud and probable tornado through the haze to the southwest with the Anadarko supercell. Rich and Rog may have dropped onto this storm. I think they did.

I drove to OUN and then north on I35 into Moore. This is the road I drive to work everyday. Very surrealistic! I knew a worst case scenario was about to unfold. The tornado was 1/3rd to 1/2 mile wide at this point (estimated). Wichita Falls was 1.5 miles wide when it went through in '79. I continued to have video problems (%^&!) but was able to film some of the tornado from an overpass near Wall Mart Super Center in south Moore. Brilliant blue power flashes were frequent and chunky debris engulfed the dark tornado.

I drove north to the I-35 overpass just south of Shields BLVD and filmed the monster as it crossed about 1/3 to 1/2 mile to my north. Too dark for stills, but video worked periodically. I knew people were dying at this point. Very sobering. This is my first view of a killer tornado. The long-track event continued northeast to Tinker AFB. I lost sight of it in the wrapping rain-curtains to my northeast. Power flashes confirmed its existence.

I drove east to Sooner road (Hwy 77H), then north to I-240. Homes just south of I-240 were hit by damaging (non-tornadic winds) with fences down, sheds blown over, and shingle damage. Debris littered the road. I've never seen so much insolation on a road surface in my life. The smell of natural gas additive filled the air. From what I've heard a plant which produces this additive smell was struck which explains why the entire Metro area stank of a gas leak. Power was out everywhere. Stopped by the damage path and with sunset approaching, I drove home and watched from my house.

I later learned that RJ Evans and Charles Edwards filmed "14 tornadoes" (2 after dark) by following very close on back dirt and mud roads in 4x4. Dillo Cam was deployed twice. They filmed within 500 yards and saw a house blow away from its foundation. They had trouble driving home to Norman due to all the roads and interstates being closed. They called me at 11 pm saying they couldn't get home! They can write more.



Needless to say, this event exceeded my expectations! Eric R, I'm sure this exceeded your expectations as well. Apparently, no augmentation was required. I was worried about cirrus seeding, but the storms were classic supercells in every sense of the word. I've never seen so many classic hooks in my life. A true textbook full of hook examples, be them WSR-88D or tv station.

Met up with Rich Thompson and Roger Edwards on Hwy 9 just southwest of Middleberg. As we filmed the true wedge several miles to our southwest on the other side of the South Canadian River, Rich said something to the effect of "Giant CAPE kicks a$$...makes up for other problems." I have to agree. Need to perform some meso analysis on this event.

One of the most interesting details was the mesoscale orientation of the lifting mechanisms reletive to storm motion. After sunset, a line of tornadic supercells oriented WNW-ESE lifted NNE across central and north central OK. This apparent boundary was a "wedge factory," with the supercells moving perpendicular to the boundary and the upper flow. Media reports indicate some of these tornado swallowed the towns of Mullhal and Dover. Perhaps other towns were too or came close like Cresent and Stroud.

Detailed damage assessment of the outbreak is very important for research purposes. Most of the media attention will be focused on the OKC Metro. But many other amazing events happened in the rural areas of Oklahoma too.


1999 May 3 Storm Chase Music Video by Robert Prentice
1999 May 3 Cyril-Chichasha, Oklahoma Tornadoes (part 1 of 2)
1999 May 3 Bridge Creek-Moore, Oklahoma Tornado (part 2 of 2)
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John Lavin

A day I will never forget...still to young to really chase but I lived in Wichita at the time. I remember watching all the super cells down in OKlahoma then later seeing cells form south of Wichita bring the Haysville tornado.
I just came across the input on the May 3rd tornado.

I was in Orlando at the time in high school, and not really into chasing yet...
I definitely remember that day vividly, watching the national coverage at the YMCA.

And Danny, I also know exactly where that Super 8 you spoke of.
I stayed at a Motel 6 right across 35 the day I arrived in Oklahoma for the first time in Fall 2000 to start at OU.

And I quickly came to realize how close May 3rd came to that hotel. The ground scouring on Shields was still veryapparent even that 15 months later.
In fact, you can see just how close by looking at Google Street View. http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&sou...nBPiSPzQPxe5lMvRiAAXfg&cbp=12,155.96,,0,-2.08

The Super 8 is right there... and if you turn the camera to the north, you can see the Shields overpass just to the right of the cement mixing truck.

And the Motel 6 I spoke of?
May 8th, 03 destroyed the Motel 6 and severely damaged the Super 8. Very similar tornado track. And an F4. Yet easily forgotten in comparison with May 3rd.

I also wasn't anywhere near Oklahoma at the time... and there have been a few fair setups on that date since. But for now, when you hear that date, there's only one day that comes to mind.
The landfall date of Katrina (August 29th) is my birthday... yet I still sometimes struggle when asked when it happened. The Greensburg tornado was part of a 3 day outbreak, and so I really have to think to remember that date.

I agree, this isn't to rate May 3rd as the "biggest" date or anything. But it will always be May 3rd to me. I've also always had a special interest in digging up everything I could on the day.

Maybe one reason it may have become the moniker is because it's simple to say. April 26th doesn't roll off the tongue nearly as easily.

But, to me, the movie Twister helped get people interested in chasing... but May 3rd may've been the day that really brought chasing home. Everything before that day seems so foundational... and everything since so much more evolved.
Certainly the Internet and contractual release of NEXRAD helped... but I feel that day changed how people look at weather forever.
Maybe that is just my opinion... it's right before I started chasing...

But either way, thanks for all the information guys!!!
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Brian Jalas

After considering your statement about the Oklahoma City area event "owning" the May 3 date I agree with you but I think the statement is a little subjective. It would be like me saying April 3-4, 1974 is the only outbreak to earn the title "super". What the May 3, 1999 outbreak immediately brings to my mind is history's first "billion dollar tornado".

Mike Smith

In Wichita, the "May 3rd Tornado" refers to the F4 tornado that struck Haysville and south Wichita that name night and killed six.

Brian Jalas

After this event Dr. Chuck Doswell convinced Dr. Paul Roebber @ Wisconsin-Milwaukee to run a simulation of the May 3 outbreak on the Penn State/NCAR MM5 Mesoscale model. The model run produced 3 supercells in far Southern Oklahoma but the storms were about 100 miles south of the actual storm initiation area and they moved in a different direction (more East than Northeast)
A few personal notes about this outbreak: I was originally scheduled to come to the Plains on May 1, and due to various issues had to postpone the trip to May 4. The chance for the chase of a lifetime was thus lost.

Second, after a trip delayed by severe weather in Dallas on May 4 I flew into OKC on May 5. On final approach, the pilot decided to do a 360 degree turn for reasons unknown (someone on the runway is my guess). The turn occurred directly over the Moore-Bridge Creek tornado track just before the track crossed the South Canadian River. It was fascinating to see the dirt scoured everywhere along the track except for a little space on each side of the river. I've often wondered if this was caused by the tornado temporarily weakening or some different type of soil near the river. Unfortunately, I'd packed away my camera for landing, so there was no chance for pictures.

Finally, I got to the see the damage in Moore in person as I drove to Norman. To me, it looked a lot like the Hurricane Andrew damage in South Miami-Dade county. Very sobering.

Jack Beven
Well I live in Kansas, I don't know and or related to anyone that was affected. I love and study weather, and I found out about it years ago because it was the most popular. I found it in many many books, weather VCR tapes, websites and pictures. It was the most documented tornado there was at the time and still is up there. For instance, on google and other sites, I do not even have to fully type out the date without getting what I was looking for. Many people are aware of it and when you think of May 3rd, you think Moore/OKC. More people know about it than one would think. I'd say around here it goes, Greensburg May 4 2007, Andover April 21 1991, OKC May 3rd 1999, Hesston March 13 1990. The town I live in got hit with a EF-4 in 08 so that would be 2nd place, but I did not place it on there because that one is very regional. But remember, I am talking your average Joe, anyone who has any interest in weather will know about all these dates and the power and intensity that was on May 3rd.
Obligatory bump for this event's 16th anniversary. The supercell that produced the Moore F5 was one of the most textbook ever. I think vortexva has a video where you can clearly see the whole hook echo and updraft. The first Tornado Emergency ever was also issued this day.
Just catching this now five years after the fact (in a ST thread sense.) I chased this event and what Brian and Dr. Beven said were both quite poignant. I was on storm A from Lawton and I certainly expected that thing to move ENE when it did not, which was a shock to nineteen-year-old n00b me... especially when it started planting tubes a few minutes later. Kind of like what the PSU model suggested but the storms had other ideas. Then later after the fact... the gas smell in the air while driving through the damage path even two days later... just nasty. /MS
Here we are on the 20th anniversary of Oklahoma's biggest tornado outbreak. An event that was extreme even for the state where "Twister" was set, the southern Plains haven't seen anything quite like it since even on the highly anticipated high risk days like May 29, 2004, May 24, 2011 or April 14, 2012.

You would think an event this prolific and violent would be quite synoptically evident, yet it was only a slight risk the morning of, then moderate, and finally high in the 20Z update just an hour or so before the first tornadoes were on the ground.

It's also remarkable that in the 20 years since, Newcastle/Moore have been hit by yet another (E)F5 in 2013, and almost were two years sooner. The very violent (officially EF4 but potentially EF5) Chickasha tornado of May 24, 2011 was poised to move up I-44 into those towns on almost an exact parallel of the 1999 path had it not dissipated.

I wonder (and I'm probably not the only one) if the southern part of the OKC metro has just had a horrible run of bad luck with strong-violent tornadoes since 1998, while north of I-240 and along the Oklahoma River has been largely unscathed, or if there's some sort of microclimate at work that favors supercell track and/or tornadogenesis slightly further to the south in central Oklahoma.
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