Twisters Strike Central U.S.

A powerful storm system unleashes tornadoes in several U.S. states

May 20, 2013

Lightning strikes an open field in Clearwater, Kansas, on Sunday, May 19, during a severe thunderstorm that brought large hail and tornadoes to the area.

Residents of the Great Plains and the Midwest are bracing for another day of severe weather after tornadoes struck the region on Sunday, May 19. The twisters, part of a massive storm system, were reported in Iowa, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, and Oklahoma on Sunday and into early Monday. On Monday morning, the National Weather Service forecasted similar weather in areas stretching from central Missouri to northern Texas. The storms could impact more than 60 million Americans.

A powerful tornado touches down near the town of Viola, southwest of Wichita, Kansas, on Sunday, May 19.

A powerful tornado touches down near the town of Viola, southwest of Wichita, Kansas, on Sunday, May 19.

Weather forecasters began warning of bad weather last Wednesday. By Sunday, the National Weather Service was strongly advising people in areas along the path of the violent twisters to find shelter. The warnings helped most people get to safety ahead of the tornadoes, which caused the most damage in areas of central Oklahoma and Wichita, Kansas.

Storm Damage

On Sunday, a half-mile wide twister struck near Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Two residents of the nearby town of Shawnee were killed. Across the state, 21 people were injured.

“It seemed like it went on forever. It was a big rumbling for a long time,” Shawn Savory told the Associated Press. His Shawnee-based remodeling business was damaged by the storm. “It was close enough that you could feel like you could reach out and touch it,” he added.

The tornado also destroyed homes in the Steelman Estates Mobile Home Park near Shawnee. County Sheriff Mike Booth says it’s the worst damage he’s seen in 25 years of law enforcement in Pottawatomie County. “It looks like there's been heavy equipment in there on a demolition tour,” he said. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin declared an emergency for 16 counties impacted by the severe storms and flooding over the weekend. The declaration will help residents get the supplies and help they need quickly.

A powerful tornado touches down near the town of Viola, southwest of Wichita, Kansas, on Sunday, May 19.

Leah Hill of Shawnee, Oklahoma, is hugged by her friend Sidney Sizemore near Hill’s home, which was destroyed by a half-mile wide tornado.

In Wichita, a tornado with winds of 110 miles per hour touched down near Mid-Continent Airport on Sunday. It knocked out power to thousands of homes and businesses nearby. Hailstones the size of golf balls slammed into houses. “It was unbelievable how the hail and everything was just coming straight sideways,” Wichita resident Jim Raulston said. However, there were no injuries reported in Kansas.

Tornado Season

In the U.S., tornado season typically occurs from April to July. This year, the central U.S. had been experiencing a relatively quiet tornado season until May 15, when an outbreak of 10 twisters struck North-Central Texas. The tornadoes killed six people and injured dozens more.

Tornadoes usually form during giant thunderstorms called supercells. Many tornadoes are black or brown from the dust and dirt they suck up as they move across the land. During a tornado, the National Weather Service advises people to take shelter in a storm cellar, a basement, or the innermost room on the lowest level of a building.

Weather experts are unable to predict when and where tornadoes will strike. But with a couple of months still left in this year’s season, they will certainly be keeping a close watch, as residents of Texas, Oklahoma, and other impacted states pick up the pieces after the latest terrible twisters.

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