June 5, 2013 in Nation/World

Oklahoma tornado was widest ever

Friday’s twister was 2.6 miles across
Matt Pearce Los Angeles Times
 

A tornado that swept through Oklahoma on Friday was the widest tornado in American history, the National Weather Service said Tuesday.

The El Reno, Okla., tornado scraped out a damage path up to 2.6 miles wide and 16.2 miles long, a swath at points wider and longer than Manhattan. The storm broke the record held by a 2.5-mile-wide Hallam, Neb., twister.

“It was amazing and something that’s extremely rare,” Howard Bluestein, professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma, said of the storm’s strength.

The human aftermath left by Friday’s twister was painfully apparent, with at least 18 people killed in the latest massive tornado to carve through Oklahoma this spring.

The storm itself, however, remains much more of a mystery.

Researchers don’t know why the twister got as big and powerful as it did, and its strength wasn’t immediately apparent as it scoured a rural area, leaving few of the physical clues that help determine wind speeds.

The twister was originally rated an EF3 before further measurements boosted the storm’s rating to EF5, the highest possible.

The huge funnel that tore around El Reno was also made up of multiple smaller tornadoes rotating like horses around a merry-go-round, Bluestein said. But what gave them their strength?

“That is something that will be the subject of research for some time to come,” said Forrest Mitchell, the observations program leader for the National Weather Service’s office in Norman, Okla.

“We have a lot to learn to find out what controls the intensity of a tornado,” Bluestein said.

“You can’t tell why, on some days, you’ll get a huge monster tornado like on Friday, while other days they’ll have relatively weak tornadoes or no tornadoes at all.”

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