The El Reno, Union City tornado that killed three highly experienced storm chasers has now been officially upgraded to an EF-5, the most powerful category, according to a new report from the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma. As you can see from the map released Tuesday, the tornado was a chilling 2.6 miles wide — making it the largest tornado on record.
That makes it twice as wide as the killer tornado that struck Moore, Oklahoma on May 20.
The winds were 295 miles per hour, and at one point there were as many as five smaller tornadoes swirling around the larger center of the powerful El Reno EF5 twister. The Friday tornado continued for a chilling 40 minutes of terror that got even worse when the storm made an unexpected turn, trapping many people in their vehicles with no way to escape.
The El Reno Union City EF-5 tornado traveled for over 16.2 miles. The NWS statement said that the number of dead and injured still isn’t fully known.
A Reuters report this morning said that the death count has already reached 18 — including seven people who were still unidentified as of Monday by the state medical examiner’s office.
A 2004 EF-4 tornado in Nebraska is the previous record-holder for the widest tornado at 2.5 miles wide.
Although some early reports had described it as an EF-3, the sheer size, power, and unpredictability of the El Reno tornado had already suggested that it might have been stronger. That suspicion was heightened by Sunday’s revelation that a highly experienced and well-regarded storm-chasing team had been killed by the unpredictable tornado.
Tim Samaras, Paul Samaras, and Carl Young were the first science researchers known to have been killed while chasing tornadoes, and the weather science community was particularly hard hit by the deaths of the three men because they were so well-known for their caution.
Now it has been confirmed that the El Reno EF-5 tornado set a new record for the widest-ever tornado.
[images courtesy National Weather Service-Norman]