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

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".
In Wichita, the "May 3rd Tornado" refers to the F4 tornado that struck Haysville and south Wichita that name night and killed six.
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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I remember reading a lot about the Moore Oklahoma tornado from May 3 1999, wasn't into chasing yet at that time... but I did chase the Moore Oklahoma May 20 2013 tornado, and that was very devastating as well, especially with the schools taking direct hits.