We all know that Oklahoma can and does get tornadoes. However, have you ever wondered which part of Oklahoma gets hit with the most tornadoes? Well, we have the answer you’re looking for.
Oklahoma County ranks top with a total of 122 tornadoes recorded since 1950. With most of the tornadoes happening in the spring between April and June. In contrast, other counties in this state have an average of 30-60 on record.
Tornadoes are common in the spring. They are especially active in Oklahoma. But Oklahoma County sees the most tornado action in the state. Let’s look at why and how many tornadoes occur in Oklahoma County.
Oklahoma County Part of Tornado Alley?
Oklahoma County is located not only in the center of Oklahoma but in the center of Tornado Alley as well. Tornado Alley is a term given by the media that contains a portion of the Southern Plains of the central United States.
This includes areas from central Texas northward to northern Iowa and from central Kansas and Nebraska to western Ohio. This area is also known as the Great Plains and is a part of the US hit by approximately 1,000 tornadoes every year.
Perfect Location for Tornadoes
Tornado Alley, which Oklahoma County is a part of, is the perfect location for many tornadoes to occur.
There are a few reasons for this:
- Dry, flat terrain
- Tornadoes form more easily when the region is dry and flat. This region is known for its vast dry, flat terrain, having no mountain coverage like in the east and west.
- Unstable atmosphere
- Warm, moist air from the Gulf moves in, and cool, dry air from Canada battles it out. This combination of the two air masses leads to atmospheric instability.
- Air masses competing
- When these two opposing air masses meet, the warm air rises, and the cool air sinks, helping to create a supercell thunderstorm.
When these severe thunderstorms or supercell thunderstorms develop a particular wind combination known as a mesocyclone, the formation of a tornado is more likely to happen. While most tornadoes can form during a supercell thunderstorm, not all supercell thunderstorms can or will produce tornadoes.
Strongest Tornado in Oklahoma County
Tornadoes are considered among the most violent weather phenomena that we have experienced to date. Tornadoes are measured on the strength and destruction that they cause. This information is then taken, and the tornado is ranked according to the “Enhanced Fujita Scale”. A tornado can rank from an EF-0, which is the least amount of damage and strength to an EF-5, which is the most amount of damage and strength.
Most of the tornadoes that occur in Oklahoma County have been recorded around an EF-2 or EF-3. These are still considered severe tornadoes. The worst tornado on record was an EF-5 tornado that hit Oklahoma County on May 3, 1999. This tornado was on record as having lasted 1 hour and 25 minutes, being over a mile long, causing damage over 36 miles, killing 36 people, and causing over $1 billion in damages.
When Tornadoes Hit Oklahoma County?
Although tornadoes can occur any time of the year, most of the tornadoes that hit the area of Oklahoma County occur during the spring, particularly between April and June. May is on record as holding the highest number of tornadoes at 53 since recorded from 1950.
Spring is a common time of the year for both warm and cold weather to occur more frequently. Along with the fact that this is usually the wettest time of the year, it makes it ideal for tornadoes to form. This happens when the warm, moist Gulf air mixes with the cooler, dry Canadian air. This is also the time of the year when most strong, severe thunderstorms, also called supercell thunderstorms, tend to hit, making tornadoes more likely.
While a supercell thunderstorm is the least common type of thunderstorm to occur, those that do have the highest tendency to produce severe weather. This severe weather from these storms can include damaging winds, very large hail and can spawn weak to violent tornadoes. These storms have deep rotating updrafts, which help aid in the formation of tornadoes.
Tornadoes are also more likely to hit later in the afternoon when the warm air from throughout the day has a chance to rise high enough to reach cooler air that is coming down from the north. Combining this with the variation of different wind speeds and directions, they create the perfect plot for the supercell thunderstorm.
Overall, Oklahoma County has the most tornadoes in Oklahoma. This is because it sits in the heart of not only Oklahoma but Tornado Alley. The location, combined with dry, flat terrain, creates the perfect environment for a tornado. The likelihood of a tornado occurring is very high.