Moore, Oklahoma, a city of more than 50,000 people that lies a few miles south of Oklahoma City, suffered a direct hit from its sixth tornado in the past fifteen years tonight. Numerous structures were significantly damaged by the tornado, including Southgate Elementary school.
A powerful line of supercells tore through on Wednesday afternoon, producing damaging winds, isolated reports of hail up to the size of softballs, and a couple of confirmed tornadoes. One of the tornadoes that formed tonight tore through neighborhoods in Moore, which was devastated by an F5 tornado back in May 1999 and again sustained a catastrophic blow from an EF-5 tornado in May 2013.
One tornado touched down two miles west of the OKC Fairgrounds with multiple power flashes visible from the air. Some homes and buildings were damaged in the area of NW 7th St. and Rockwell Ave.
Another tornado touched down near SW 4th St. and crossed Interstate 35 in Moore, less than a half a mile north of the Warren Theater, around 6:35 p.m. There have been reports of damage to homes and natural gas leaks. It also caused multiple car crashes and overturned vehicles and a semi on I-35.
Thankfully, officials aren't reporting any serious injuries or fatalities from this particular tornado.
Moore Public Schools will be closed tomorrow due to damage and power outages in the city, including severe damage to Southgate Elementary School. An image taken by an "unknown teacher" in the building shows heavy damage to a classroom.
— Lance West (@lancewest) March 26, 2015
Unfortunately, the tornado spun up too fast for forecasters to issue a warning; unwarned tornadic storms are rare in the age of Doppler radar, and especially so in this region of the country. The brief tornado had some pretty strong rotation as it moved through Moore (right), as well as what appears to be a debris ball on base reflectivity (left):
Not all of the damage in the city is attributable to the tornado itself, as some of it was likely caused by damaging straight-line winds. It will take a survey by National Weather Service meteorologists to classify the damage and assign it a rating on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
The path that the May 20, 2013 tornado cut through the landscape is still visible in satellite imagery of Moore, such as the one above.
These were the first tornadoes reported so far during the month of March, and among only a handful that have formed so far this year. Before today, we've only had 28 reports of tornadoes across the United States in 2015, compared to the 193 we normally see by March 25.
[Images: GREarth, GR2Analyst, Google Earth]