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Oklahoma town ravaged by second tornado in two months » Yale Climate Connections

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The northeastern town of Barnsdall, Oklahoma (pop. 1000) suffered its second tornado strike of the year late Monday, May 6. Aerial imagery on Tuesday morning showed widespread destruction in Barnsdall, and at least one person was killed.

Located in Osage County (which is coextensive with the Osage Nation), Barnsdall had been struck on April 1 by an EF1 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Scale that damaged several dozen structures. Monday’s twister was stronger and more destructive. The Associated Press reported that at least 30 to 40 homes were damaged or destroyed, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

The EF rating of Monday’s tornado will be finalized after storm survey teams organized by the National Weather Service finish combing through and evaluating the wreckage. The National Weather Service office in Tulsa reported late Monday morning that EF3 damage had been confirmed southwest of Barnsdall. “Still a long day of surveying with this storm and lots more to evaluate,” the office said in a tweet.

Aerial imagery showed a number of foundations exposed in the tornado’s wake. How well these homes were built and secured to their foundations will help determine the tornado’s ultimate EF rating. Regardless of that outcome, the twister was clearly a devastating blow to this small community.

Elsewhere in the Southern Plains, Monday’s widely anticipated severe weather caused less destruction than feared. The extreme instability and strong wind shear were in place as expected, but most of the severe thunderstorms developed in a broken line stretching from eastern Kansas into Oklahoma, rather than as separate supercell storms. That line-based structure limited the storms’ ability to form intense tornadic circulations. In fact, the Barnsdall tornado emerged from one of the day’s few intense storms that formed well ahead of the line, merging with the line only after the tornado struck (see radar loop in embedded post from Jon Erdman below).

After filtering for duplicates, the NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center had compiled 19 tornado reports by midday Tuesday. Although this was a more modest tornado total than several other days this year, there were 207 reports of severe wind and 77 reports of severe hail, making it the most prolific day of 2024 so far for severe weather overall.

More strong tornadoes possible Tuesday and Wednesday

The sprawling upper low and associated surface front will remain across the Great Plains and Midwest through midweek, leading to more rounds of severe thunderstorms. As of midday Tuesday, SPC had placed much of the Corn Belt, Ohio Valley, mid-Mississippi Valley, and Tennessee Valley under severe-weather risk areas for Tuesday and/or Wednesday (see Fig. 1 below).

Areas most at risk of tornadoes, some possibly strong, include Indiana, western Ohio, and northern Kentucky on Tuesday and a belt from southeast Missouri to northern Tennessee on Wednesday.

A map of the eastern United States showing tornado risk and odds highest in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio on Tuesday. On Wednesday the odds are highest in Missouri, Southern Illinois and Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Figure 1. Risk areas for severe weather on Tuesday, May 7 (top left) and Wednesday, May 8 (bottom left), along with the probabilities of tornadoes within 25 miles of any point on Tuesday (top right) and Wednesday (bottom right). These outlooks were issued at midday Tuesday and are subject to change. Image credit: NOAA/NWS/SPC.

Tuesday’s threat will hinge largely on whether clouds will inhibit instability near and north of a slow-moving warm front. The warm front may again serve as a focus for tornadic storms on Wednesday (likely more numerous than on Tuesday), as a richer pool of warm, moist air pushes northward and upper-level energy over the region intensifies. Tornadic supercells may also form along a cold front near and west of the mid-Mississippi Valley. Clouds and surface boundaries left behind by the numerous storms expected into Tuesday night will influence how Wednesday’s setup evolves.

Large hail – typically the costliest threat from U.S. severe weather – could occur with any of Wednesday’s storms from northeast Texas to Ohio.

Jeff Masters contributed to this post.

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