Tornadoes ripped through Oklahoma and Missouri overnight Saturday night, leaving at least two dead, dozens injured, and more missing.
Oklahoma has been raked by severe weather all week, with multiple incidents of tornadoes over the course of several days, but Saturday night, large, F3 tornadoes formed across the state, as well as across the Texas panhandle and parts of Missouri.
The Weather Channel reports that the first tornado touched down in El Reno, Oklahoma — about 25 minutes outside Oklahoma City — just after 10:30 p.m. Two people who were taking shelter in their mobile home were killed and at least 30 more were injured when the same formation tore through a motel at the corner of Interstate 40 and U.S. Highway 81. Some of the injuries were deemed “critical” but no specifics were given about victims’ injuries.
The City of El Reno has established a GoFundMe to help residents affected by the tornado, which lasted only “5 to 10 minutes” but lofted debris “up to a height of 7,000 feet,” ripping mobile homes from their foundations and tearing through streets and highways.
“It’s a tragic scene out there,” El Reno Mayor Matt White told journalists Sunday morning. “People have absolutely lost everything.”
“The thing about El Reno is we are more than a community, we are a family. … We’re going to overcome this. It’s so devastating to see the loss out there,” White later added.
Areas in metropolitan Oklahoma City also reported damage from the high winds and heavy rain that followed the tornado, including “trees snapped in half” and blown-out windows.
A second tornado scraped through the suburbs of Tulsa, Oklahoma, causing damage but, so far, no reported injuries. Officials are still determining the strength of that weather formation. That tornado comes on the heels of days of rain that forced the evacuation of hundreds of Tulsa residents. More rain is expected this week.
Missouri, Kansas, and the Texas panhandle also suffered significant storm damage on Friday, and then again overnight Saturday to Sunday, the latest incidents in a week of weather that has seen back-to-back severe storms and tornadoes — a weather pattern that meteorologists told the Kansas City Star repeats itself every 15-20 years, leaving typically hardy mid-westerners tired and weather-weary.
“[A]s the clock ticked toward midnight, a twister with EF-3 winds in excess of 135 miles per hour cut a path through Jefferson City, the state’s capital, heaving bricks and turning homes into dollhouses ripped open to the sky,” the Kansas City Star reported on the severe weather that ripped through Friday. Three people were left dead Friday night after the same tornado destroyed Golden, Missouri, AccuWeather adds.
Although some politicians have seized on the record-breaking weather as proof of “climate change,” local meteorologists say that that explanation is somewhat lacking. Certainly, global warming may cause incremental temperature shifts that ultimately affect weather patterns, but there is “no clear link” between global warming and the number of tornadoes that hit a given area of the United States.
Tornado alley, though — the area of the United States where severe weather is more likely — is shifting, as is tornado season. Areas to the south and east are now more likely to experience tornadoes alongside the central plains states, and tornadoes begin forming in early May now, rather than in early June.
Scientists tell the Kansas City Star that they’re not willing to make any proclamations as to why “Tornado Alley” is slowly relocating, and while it may be climate motivated, much more research is needed.