We look for a sunny and windy afternoon with highs in the lower 80s. South winds of 15 to 30 mph will be common with slightly higher gusts. A cold front will arrive tomorrow afternoon and early evening with a chance of a few showers or storms across the southern third of the state.
There remains some controversy for Sunday regarding the coverage of showers and storms, but we have basically kept a fairly high chance with mostly cloudy and cool conditions. Sunday's high temperatures should stay in the 50s with northeast winds at 10 mph.
The chance for surface based severe storms will be focused mainly across the southeastern third of the state Saturday evening, with Sunday's activity post frontal and closer in proximity to the mid level front. Sunday's precipitation is not expected to be strong or severe but would result in pockets of showers.
The extended data yesterday supported a mid level wave moving over the area Tuesday but surprisingly didn't produce showers or storms out of the model. I should have known better!
Today's data indeed produces precipitation as the main trough begins to traverse the southern and central plains Monday evening into Tuesday morning. This will require me to introduce a healthy chance of rain late Monday into early Tuesday. The surface area of low pressure is expected to remain to our south and this would keep northeastern OK in the northeast surface winds through the event. Surface based severe weather would not be possible with this system based on current projections, but pockets of heavy rainfall with some elevated hailers would be a slight possibility. Unfortunately any additional rain could contribute to flooding headaches along the eastern third of the state, even though the system will be a relatively fast mover.
It's not hard to imagine a multi state tornado on the ground for hours tearing up everything in its path resulting in hundreds of fatalities. This happened a few times in the 1800's and a few times in the 1900's. The tri state 1925 tornado resulted in 695 deaths and many more injuries. The 1974 Super Outbreak produced 148 tornadoes in 13 states resulting in 315 deaths and horrible destruction. But these events happened in a time with limited knowledge and warnings about tornadoes and weather in general. Tornado warnings didn't really begin until the mid 1950's for fear the word " tornado" would result in widespread fear and panic from the public. The 1974 outbreak occurred early in the infancy of radars and watches and warnings to the public, which brings me to ask a big question regarding the recent catastrophic outbreak: why did so many people die?
Despite what you may hear from some national media sources and reporters, these tornadoes didn't strike without warning. In fact, in many cases, these tornadoes were on the ground for hours with tornado warnings issued well in advance of arrival times. Even before the first storm had formed, the Storms Prediction Center had issued a moderate risk of severe weather for these areas of the nation the day before the event and had upgraded the risk to the highest level Wednesday morning. Dr. Greg Forbes and the Weather Channel had the area highlighted for their high risk area Tuesday and Wednesday. The SPC issued long lead time tornado watches for these areas highlighting the risk of long lived and potentially violent tornadoes. I have very little doubt that every TV station forecaster in the region also highlighted the area for severe weather at least a day before, if not longer. The local National Weather Service offices across the region also issued special information and statements about this event, in some instances, days in advance. Emergency management agencies and local law enforcement officials were no doubt aware of the potential and staffed for the event.
So with all the potential information, even two days before the event, why all the fatalities?
The first and most obvious answer is the shear number and strength of the tornadoes.
When mile wide wedge tornadoes impact large metropolitan areas, a higher population means a higher possibility of fatalities and injury. The strongest and most violent of these storms will leave very little undamaged, and even taking all the correct safety precautions, will not insure an escape from death and injury. And when large wedge tornadoes hit small communities, there is usually nothing left.
Most of the time tornadoes are not violent and strong. Research indicates most tornadoes are relatively weak and last less than a few minutes on the ground. These tornadoes are referred to as F0 and F1 events. The second number of tornadoes fall into the strong category (F2 and F3) and can usually be survived by taking correct tornado safety precautions. But it's these very large and violent tornadoes (F4 and F5) that occur less than 1% of the time that can cause catastrophic damage resulting in loss of life regardless if one follows normal tornado safety protocol. Most tornadoes are survivable by taking proper tornado precautions. Obviously deaths do occur with even "weak" tornadoes in some instances. The absolute best shelter from any tornado, including large violent tornadoes, would be an underground storm shelter or a saferoom. Most locations across the Deep South do not have underground basements and the same is true for many areas of Oklahoma and Texas.
We'll not know any real information for a while, but researchers will want to know the following information regarding this system:
Despite all the pre-storm information, including watches and warnings, did residents of the warned areas receive the information? Did residents understand the seriousness of the information? Did they take action before the event, or did they wait to respond until a tornado actually arrived in their community?
Did most folks take correct tornado safety protocol when warnings were issued?
If proper safety protocol was practiced, but the result was over 300 fatalities in the modern age of technology, is the current protocol correct?
It could be argued that modern communication technology combined with increasing knowledge of tornado development helped to keep the death toll from even higher numbers.
The bottom line for these extremely violent and long track tornadoes is that despite taking correct safety precautions, death is going to occur for some in locations that take direct hits. The fear of most forecasters and scientists who study tornadoes came to fruition Wednesday: several long track, violent tornadoes impacting highly populated areas. These events are rare, but they do occur. Unfortunately, they will occur in the future. My heartfelt sympathy and prayers are extended to everyone impacted by these storms.