Tornadoes spotted in Oklahoma as Central US braces for severe weather: Updates

At least four tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma and a number of tornado warnings have been issued in Kansas, Nebraska, and Tennessee as millions faced severe weather risks from an outbreak of storms late Monday.

Tornadoes were spotted in northeastern and central Oklahoma, including one in Barnsdall, Oklahoma, — a city about 40 miles north of Tulsa, Oklahoma. There were reports of damages and injuries in the communities of Barnsdall and Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and it was the second time in about a month that a tornado hit the area.

Further east in the state, the Craig County Emergency Department posted on social media that the Welch Fire Department reported the roof had been blown off the old gymnasium at Welch School. The severe weather comes a week after a tornado outbreak killed four people in Oklahoma.

Severe weather will continue to threaten the region overnight as storms move east. Forecasters at the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center issued dire warnings for a significant tornado outbreak in the central U.S. that could impact millions of people from Texas to the Dakotas.

By 9 p.m., a line of thunderstorm activity stretched from just west of Oklahoma City north through Iowa and into South Dakota, with the weather service continuing to warn of an increasing risk of tornadoes. Tornado warnings were issued in South Dakota, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

The Storm Prediction Center also issued a tornado watch for eastern Kansas, and western and central Missouri through 4 a.m., with the potential for “a few” tornadoes and damaging winds up to 75 mph.

Earlier in the afternoon, the center issued a warning for a “particularly dangerous situation” through 11 p.m., following up on its previous “high risk” warning for portions of Oklahoma and Kansas, which included the Oklahoma City metro area. Such warnings are rare, reserved only for the most serious severe weather days.

“We are expecting a serious severe weather outbreak,” said meteorologist Jennifer Thompson. The outbreak – with multiple strong, long-tracked tornadoes, large hail, and severe thunderstorm gusts – is forecast “over parts of the south-central Plains from this afternoon through evening,” the Storm Prediction Center said.

The center warned of “explosive thunderstorm development” and put the chances for at least two tornadoes at more than 95%. The risk is expected to increase into the evening.

“Intense tornadoes are probable especially as the atmosphere becomes very favorable for tornadoes late this afternoon and continuing through the evening,” the center warned. The tornado watch covers an area of Kansas and Oklahoma roughly 250 miles by 300 miles, but the chances for severe weather extend into the Dakotas and east to Kentucky and Tennessee.

Ahead of the storms, McConnell Air Force Base, near Wichita, Kansas, is relocating aircraft to remove them from harm’s way, CNN reported. Schools across the danger zone were also altering schedules before the storms hit.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma City Public Schools and several metro-area school districts began canceling all after-school and evening activities, the Associated Press reported.

Tornado warnings, severe weather in Nebraska

In Nebraska, the weather service issued a tornado warning for Nemaha and Otoe counties just before 9:30 p.m.

The weather service warned that severe thunderstorms in the region could affect areas damaged by storms on April 26. Winds as high as 60 mph were being reported in parts of Iowa and Nebraska.

At least 18 tornadoes occurred across Nebraska and Iowa on April 26, including five EF-3 tornadoes. The storms killed one person and destroyed hundreds of homes and businesses, the weather service said. They were the strongest tornadoes in eastern Nebraska or western Iowa in nearly 10 years.

Hail, tornado reports in Kansas

In Kansas, at least two funnel clouds — meaning they did not touch the ground — have been reported to the weather service office in Topeka, Kansas, one north of Chapman in Dickinson County and one northwest of Moonlight in Geary County. A tornado also had been confirmed by radar near Riley in Ogden County.

Hail stones up to 4 inches in size were also reported in Moonlight and 2.75 inches in Riley.

Tornado confirmed in Oklahoma

In Garfield County, Oklahoma, a tornado had been confirmed near Covington, moving east. Flash flooding also was reported in Garfield County, with at least one water rescue near Covington.

The county’s emergency management office reported to the weather service that they’d confirmed buildings destroyed and trees down near the county line between Garfield and Kingfisher counties.

At 9:40 p.m. Central Time, the weather service office in Tulsa said it had received multiple reports of structural damage from a tornado in and near Barnsdall with multiple photos and videos from storm chasers working in the area. Damage also was reported in Bartlesville.

The weather service also warned that a second line of storms could develop later in the evening around the I-44 corridor, which could affect central and southern Oklahoma, including the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, with the most severe activity likely between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m.

Just before 8 p.m. Central Time, weather service meteorologists in Norman, Oklahoma, reported the storms were increasing in severity and the chance of tornadoes was increasing. Earlier in the evening, the weather service reported that spotters and broadcast media had confirmed a rope tornado about one mile south of Bison, Oklahoma.

In Kingfisher County, a spotter reported uprooted trees, snapped power lines, and damage to a home that might have been tornado-related, the weather service said. The county’s emergency management reported a downed power pole and line, where the tornado moved through Lacey. Hail stones up to 2.5 inches in size were reported in the area.

At 6:43 p.m., the weather service said broadcast media had spotted a tornado 4 miles southeast of Okeene. Just after 6 p.m. in the northern part of the state, trained spotters reported a very brief tornado about five miles south of Helena, according to the weather service.

Reports of tornadoes in Tennessee

In Nashville, the weather service reported two radar-confirmed tornadoes, one each in Wilson and DeKalb counties. No significant damage was reported, the weather service added, but storm surveys are planned on Tuesday.

What is a ‘high risk’?

A high risk is the highest-tier hazardous weather forecast that the Storm Prediction Center issues.

This forecast is the first “high risk” since two were issued on March 31, 2023, said Matthew Elliott, warning coordination meteorologist for the center.

“We typically average only one or two a year,” Elliott said.

Bryan Smith, lead forecaster at the National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center, coordinates the "particularly dangerous situation" tornado watch at the center in Norman, Oklahoma on the afternoon of May 6, 2024 as the region braced for a severe weather outbreak.

A ‘significant’ outbreak

“We’re really expecting this to be a significant outbreak of severe weather,” Elliott said, “with some long track, intense tornadoes certainly possible.”

High winds over portions of Colorado and the High Plains Monday morning are also related to the strong and strengthening low-pressure system expected to spawn tornadoes and hail later in the day.

“It’s very similar to what’s helping create the moisture across the Southern Plains that will lead to the severe weather this afternoon and evening,” Elliott said. “That’s why we see this potential for large hail, tornadoes and damaging winds.”

 

How to be safe during a tornado warning

While there’s no such thing as guaranteed safety, the weather service says there are things people can do to increase their chances of surviving a deadly tornado.

  • Protect yourself from flying or falling debris, the single biggest life-threatening hazard.
  • Seek shelter in the closest, safest interior or underground room.
  • Always avoid windows. Don’t go to the windows or doors to look outside.
  • Cover yourself with thick protective coverings, such as a mattress, sleeping bags, and thick blankets or other protective coverings.
  • Wear a helmet if you have one to protect your head from debris.