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May 18-21, 2013, tornado outbreak (Image 1)

The Shawnee Tornado that struck on May 19, 2013, in Oklahoma

The Shawnee Tornado that struck on May 19, 2013, in Oklahoma.

The May 18-21, 2013, tornado outbreak was significant, affecting parts of the Midwestern U.S. and lower Great Plains. This event occurred just days after a deadly outbreak struck Texas and surrounding Southern states on May 15. On May 16, a slow moving trough (an elongated region of relatively low atmospheric pressure) crossed the Rocky Mountains and traversed the western Great Plains. Initially, activity was limited to scattered severe storms; however, by May 18, the threat for organized severe thunderstorms and tornadoes greatly increased. A few tornadoes touched down that day in Kansas and Nebraska, including an EF4 near Rozel, Kan. Maintaining its slow eastward movement, the system produced another round of severe weather nearby. Activity significantly increased on May 19, with tornadoes confirmed in Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Illinois. In Oklahoma, two strong tornadoes (one was rated EF4) caused significant damage in rural areas of the eastern Oklahoma City metropolitan area; two people lost their lives in Shawnee. However, the most dramatic events occurred on May 20 as a large EF5 tornado devastated parts of Moore, Okla. Twenty-four people were killed and thousands of structures were destroyed--many were completely flattened. Several other tornadoes occurred during the day in areas further eastward, though the majority were weak and caused little damage.

This image was taken by Roger M. Wakimoto while performing tornado research for the University of Colorado, Boulder. Wakimoto is the assistant director for the National Science Foundation's (NSF) Directorate for Geosciences.

You can read about NSF funding for tornado research in the Discovery story Long-term federal investments improve severe weather prediction. (Date of Image: May 2013) [Image 1 of 6 related images. See Image 2.]

Credit: Roger M. Wakimoto, University of Colorado
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