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Tornado Touches Down in Oklahoma

Aired May 24, 2008 - 15:30   ET


JACQUI JERAS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Good afternoon, everyone. I'm CNN meteorologist Jacqui Jeras in the severe weather center with some breaking weather information for you.
Storm spotters are tracking a very dangerous tornado right now. This is in Hennessey, Oklahoma. There you can see a very large funnel, can't quite tell based on this shot, I'm not seeing any debris or any actual touchdown on the ground. But that looks like certainly some rotation and you can see it's trying to lower itself a little bit. This is in Kingfisher and Garfield Counties which are under a tornado warning right now.

These are live pictures that you're watching from KWTV and look at how that funnel is lowering right now and we can see that's just about to touch the ground there. The color that's starting to -- there it is. There you can see the touchdown. You can see a little bit of a debris starting to spin up a little bit. Certainly a very large tornado, you can see the water vapor, the moisture in there along with that.

This is in a rural area right now, so not causing any damage as we speak, but this is continuing to move in a northeasterly direction. Some towns that are going to be impacted by this are Abbeville, Arlington, the town of Lacey, excuse me, the town of Lacey is also in the line of this storm. We're watching a tornado, KWTV, a live picture from their helicopter.

You can see that debris field getting larger as we speak. There you can see a residence which is in the line of this. It continues to move, very dangerous situation going on right now. Tornado watches in effect by the way across much of northern and central parts of Oklahoma. We've been dealing with tornado outbreaks.

Oh, look at that roof come off of that building. Wow, really being thrown very far. Incredible pictures, but this is actually happening right now, what you're seeing in Hennessey, Oklahoma. Hopefully these people have a storm shelter and are under the ground as we speak.

This is the kind of -- come again? OK. We're hearing that those are barns that you're seeing in that picture being blown away, just ripped to pieces, torn to shreds by this tornado. This is the kind of situation where you need to be underground to stay safe.

Tornadoes have been breaking out across the plains over the last two days. We've had more than 100 reports of tornadoes since Thursday, of course sometimes you tend to get more than just one report of one specific tornado. So this is Kingfisher County and Garfield County in northern and central parts of Oklahoma. Storm spotters have been following this dangerous tornado which is very, very large. Look at how high that debris field goes up into the air. And there you can see the cloud base of that storm as well.

We just saw this develop right here before our eyes, you and me together, as storm chasers were looking at this wall cloud and then a funnel cloud and then we actually saw this tornado come down and reach the ground and damage some farm buildings in the area. It's a very large tornado. It's continuing to track to the north and to the east, the town of Lacey is in the line of this storm right now. It's pretty much in a rural area as you can see, a very flat country, so you can see miles and miles away. This is Hennessey, near the town of Hennessey, Oklahoma where this damage is occurring at this time.

Our risk today is what we would call a slight risk compared to what we had just the other day, a high risk. So we're not expecting to see large numbers of tornadoes like this throughout the afternoon hours, but all it takes is one tornado to develop, reach the ground and cause some major devastation.

Of course yesterday, the town of Ellis received some major damage, the town of Kansas. We were worried about Greensburg, Kansas, yesterday, if you remember that one a year ago, that town was completely leveled by an EF-5 tornado. This is a powerful tornado that you're looking at right here, capable of producing some massive destruction. Looks like we might see a little bit of lifting going on there right now, I'm not seeing the debris field in the same way that I was before.

But certainly tornadoes go through these cycles as we call them. They develop, they strengthen, they can lift up a little bit. And then they can also just move right back down and hit the ground. We're going to dip into KWTV here and we're going to listen to Mason Dunn, the helicopter pilot and hear what he's reporting -- Mason.

MASON DUNN, KWTV REPORTER: It's moving directly east, too, Gary. It's not going northeast. It looks like it's moving directly east. It's hitting some trees. It's going directly east, Gary.

JERAS: While we're hearing reports from the National Weather Service that this storm has been moving to the northeast, we're hearing Mason Dunn reporting it was actually moving due east. So that's going to be impacting some other areas. This is just down to the south of the town of Enid. It's about 15 or so miles northwest of Oklahoma City. The entire area is under a tornado watch.

And there you can see that warning in Kingfisher and Garfield Counties as this very violent, large tornado continues to hover over the area, moving off to the east. And it is a slow mover. This is only moving about 11 miles an hour. And the only good thing we can think about something like this is when it's moving slowly like that, you can give ample warning to the people ahead of the storm to be seeking shelter at this time.

Of course, you want to think about those tornado safety rules. We've got a big holiday weekend upon us. A lot of people are outdoors. They're trying to enjoy themselves with their family and friends this weekend. You need to get on the lowest level of your home away from doors and windows, an interior room or underground is best. Cover yourself up if you can because flying debris is often the big killer in these types of situations. We did have one fatality yesterday due to a tornado and dozens and dozens of tornadoes over the last couple of days.

This is really the only cell right now in the country that has a tornado warning on it. So we're not anticipating the big outbreak like we've had the last couple of days. But all it takes is one. We're going to go back in time now and show you this as it developed. You saw this with me live on CNN here as the storm spotters were chasing this tornado. So let's go ahead and roll back that video and we'll show you how this started and what we saw was -- there it is.

A tornado as it developed. We saw a low hanging cloud, we saw the spin and there you can see the tornado reaching the ground, starting to pick up some of that debris and start that really strong spin. And then as this continued to move, you can see there, just on the right side of your screen, some outbuildings, what looks like maybe a farmhouse and then this tornado is just going to move right over the top of that and we'll watch the debris just fly all over the place. This tornado just obliterated what you see right in front of your eyes right there. Let's go ahead and watch that for a second.

We're also getting some -- there you go. Look at that. Just flying into the air, the destruction, massive power of a tornado like that. We're getting word now from Mason Dunn, who is the helicopter pilot who shot this video for us from KWTV, saying that it was a large tornado touched down on the ground and before you knew it, it was gone.

So I guess we're getting word now that the tornado has lifted, but keep in mind that this is still what we call one of those super cell type of thunderstorms that has rotation with it. And we could see this tornado drop back out of that (INAUDIBLE) cloud and cause more damage.

So Kingfisher and Garfield Counties in northern and central Oklahoma certainly need to be underground right now and seeking shelter. You can see, the ominous looking cloud. That's the (INAUDIBLE) as we call it and all those streaks that you can see on the right-hand side of your screen, that's what we call the rain shaft so that's where the heavy showers are coming down right now. It was just behind that where we would see any kind of hail core or any other type of tornado beginning to redevelop with this storm.

But if you look at it really closely, look at those lower hanging clouds. Can you see how they're moving and how we're still seeing just a little bit of spin with that storm? So this continues to be an extremely dangerous situation going on in north central parts of Oklahoma right now. Helicopter pilot is about two miles away from this storm. It's amazing the clarity that we can see of this system as it develops.

Let's go ahead and listen in and see what Mason is saying at this time.

DUNN: Right in that area that you're looking at, my photographer Keith Kilborne (ph) doing a great job up here. That was some amazing video that we just -- I just can't believe it. But we're going to stay on this storm right here. We're moving slightly to the northeast. And this storm appears, Gary that is it is moving directly to the east. Maybe a little northeast, but it's starting to rotate again right now.

JERAS: That was Mason Dunn speaking, the helicopter pilot there in Hennessey, Oklahoma talking about that rotation I was just mentioning, how you can kind of see that lowering there a little bit in the wall cloud portion of this. You can kind of see the little spent (ph) cloud hanging down a little bit and how that whole entire thing is actually rotating.

So this would be the area that a tornado could and would drop out of again. So as the tornado warning remains in place, amazing pictures that we've just been seeing developing right in front of our eyes here over the last several minutes. Wow, incredible pictures. Photographer Keith Kilborne has been taking that video along with Mason Dunn.

Let's just go ahead and see that video one more time because it's just amazing. We saw that large funnel, we saw it drop down to the ground, there you can see all the debris kicking up around that tornado as it continues to rotate and there you can see those outbuildings and the barns and this tornado just moves right up to them, right over it and just obliterates everything within its path.

The power of Mother Nature on this holiday weekend unfortunately. We're dealing with another one of those situations where we have tornadoes in the nation's heartland and peoples' lives are being threatened by this. Look at that. It goes flying, hundreds and hundreds of feet up in the air, just turning those pieces of wood into toothpicks and blowing them miles away, incredible strength from this storm, incredible amount of damage. And after it did that, it's hard to believe that that thing just lifted back up and it's moving slowly over the area off to the east. The town of Lacey could be impacted by this storm. Again, this is Kingfisher and Garfield Counties.

Good time to think about those tornado safety rules and your NOAA weather radio, which you'll want to have with you today. Make sure you've got the batteries in it and that it's operating. That's something that you can take with you if you're heading out to the lake, if you're heading to the cabin, if you're going to be in the camper this weekend, make sure you have that with you, because it will go off and it will alert you when something like this happens and it could certainly ultimately save your life.

A lot of people out this weekend trying to enjoy themselves with friends and family. But certainly need to heed the warning that that threat is out there, ongoing in central and northern parts of Oklahoma and we could also see severe weather as we progress throughout the day today in cities like Kansas City into Omaha, Nebraska, Council Bluffs, Iowa, on up towards Sioux Falls, South Dakota, all those cities could be seeing weather like this later on this afternoon and into the evening hours.

Again you're looking at pictures, all right, there you can see we've got live pictures now, it looks like that tornado has redeveloped. We've been watching the rotation of the wall cloud from this storm and there you can see the tornado has dropped back out of it.

We're going to listen to Mason talking about the tornado. Mason Dunn, the helicopter pilot talking about it.

DUNN: It's on the ground, nothing in its way, any houses or anything yet. It's going to take out a tree here it looks like, but you know, it looks like it's moving due east to me, Gary.

JERAS: All right, that's Mason Dunn continuing to track this tornado, which is back on the ground now. We saw it just destroy a barn, lifted back up and that storm just kind of hovered over the area and now we've got another tornado which has dropped out of that main cell, this is near Hennessey, Oklahoma. This is Kingfisher and Garfield Counties.

We were just hearing from the helicopter pilot there that nothing is in the way of this tornado right now other than trees and some other vegetation. But so obviously this is a very rural area, but there are also farm homes. There are barns. There are outbuildings out there and certainly a lot of livestock I'm sure as well which could be threatened in the upcoming moments. This tornado warning is in effect until the top of the hour. That's 3:00 central time.

DUNN: It's definitely on the ground right now. It's moving a little bit more to the northeast, Gary, unfortunately, there's going to be some structures in the way here. Hopefully it will keep going northeast and not east because there is a farmhouse about a half a mile away from it.

You know, it's not that rough up here, Gary, but I am fighting to stay away from this thing, I'm trying to stay about two miles from it, I'm turning to the right now. We're having to add a little more power here just to stay away from it, but not too bad really other than trying to stay away from it.

JERAS: Now you can see that that tornado has started to lift a little bit.

DUNN: I'm looking down at the ground, there's a golf course down here and I'm seeing some water down here. The winds are east about 18 to 26 right now is what my radar says, starting to get a well defined funnel. You can see the house I was talking about, coming into view.

JERAS: We're no longer seeing that debris kicking up on the ground here from this perspective, so hopefully this is starting to lift back up again and starting to move through an area as you can see where there are some houses, where there are some barns.

DUNN: Yes. Gary, I'm not going to be -- I'm looking to the right of this tornado and it is -- the wall cloud is just getting with it. I wouldn't be surprised to see two tornadoes come out of this any time, but right now, we do definitely have one on the ground, pretty large.

JERAS: So you can see some of that water in that field starting to kick up again right in the middle of a field. This is Hennessey, Oklahoma excuse me. You're watching this live here on CNN. KWTV is helping us out with their helicopter pilot Mason Dunn, who we are continuing to hear a conversation that he's having with his meteorologist back at his station.

There you can see this tornado showing its strength out in the open field there. It's already wiped out at least one barn and several outbuildings. We're not sure if a house was impacted at that time. Of course we hope that those people are staying safe and that you all remember your safety rules when it comes to tornadoes, that you need to stay underground if you can until those warnings are expired, this one in effect until the top of the hour. You want to be in the lowest level of your home away from doors and windows. And this is just one example of more than 100 tornadoes that we've seen.

DUNN: It's traveled about a mile now since it's been on the ground. And hopefully, I don't see any structures in the way of it. It's just out in the middle a field right now, thank goodness.

JERAS: And as we continue to watch these pictures, the storm prediction center has just issued a tornado watch in effect for a large part of central and eastern South Dakota until 10:00 Central time. So now, South Dakota getting in on that threat of tornadoes and we think they really could develop anywhere from the state of Oklahoma all the way up through Kansas, through Nebraska, into parts of Iowa on up through South Dakota and possibly infringing into northern parts of North Dakota.

This is going to be the scene, we think, through the afternoon and into the evening hours. Now the National Weather Service out of Norman, Oklahoma, has just extended the tornado warning that we were talking about right here. They say that this is going to be ongoing now until 3:30 for Kingfisher and Garfield Counties. In addition to the threat of tornadoes, we can see hail the size of tennis balls or larger.

DUNN: It went right around that farmhouse. It appeared, Gary which is good, but it headed directly towards me right now; it's headed directly to the east, headed directly east, still a strong tornado on the ground. It's going to take out some trees here but I don't see -- there is a farmhouse, the closest one I see is about a mile and a half away right now from it.

JERAS: The town of Bison is in the line of this storm and could be impacted by that. There you can see, look at that from the bottom of your screen, you can if you look real closely, you can start to see some of that debris kicking up. Wow. There you can see a transformer blow.

DUNN: No structure that I see -- but we've been quite lucky with this so far. JERAS: Some kind of electrical blow, if you guys saw that, a light flash there, that could have been power lines. You can see how it's just --

DUNN: It's going to cross the road here, Gary, I don't know what road that is, but it's starting to move a little bit more to the northeast now, instead of east. It's wobbling, I guess, Gary, wouldn't you say, kind of wobbling around.

JERAS: Wow. Look at those large trees being lifted up and blown over, incredible pictures. If you're just joining us now, we're tracking by the air a very large tornado that's on the ground. This is in north central parts of Oklahoma. If you don't know the area well, it's probably the largest town near here is Enid. This is Kingfisher and Garfield Counties. We saw a large funnel cloud. The tornado developed and touched the ground. It wiped out some farm buildings now and also some barns.

It lifted back up and now we're seeing another tornado which has developed out of this same parent cell which has been back on the ground. Mason Dunn who is a helicopter pilot, that's the voice we've been dipping in and out and hearing him speak and talk about this. He says it's moving in an easterly direction, the town of Bison and also the town of Lacey could be impacted by this storm. It's mostly in a rural area, so there hasn't been a lot of damage associated with this, just large trees.

DUNN: It's still on the ground. Don't let it fool you, it's still on the ground.

JERAS: We're also seen maybe some power outages along with this, some light flashes in some of this video. A tornado watch is in effect for all of north central and central parts of Oklahoma.

DUNN: It's still on the ground. We're making a left turn.

JERAS: It's been amazing if you've been with us over the last five or 10 minutes or so, just the changes in the fluctuations that you see in a tornado like this. You know, it changes every couple of minutes. We could see it strengthen. We could see it weaken. We could see it lift back up, but this is certainly not a storm that you want to risk anything with. You want to get underground in this situation.

All right, they've extend the tornado warning now for Garfield County, we've been talking about Garfield, but they're issuing it now just for Garfield until 3:30 Central time. This tornado is about seven miles southwest of Kremlin and Kremlin could be impacted by this tornado as well. You need to be seeking shelter immediately.

Also, if you live in South Dakota, just so you know, you just got in also on a tornado watch. This includes big chunk of central and eastern parts of South Dakota. We expect that the severe weather could fill in everywhere in between from Oklahoma all the way through South Dakota, so places like Kansas, up towards Kansas City, possibly Omaha, Nebraska later on today and of course Sioux Falls, South Dakota, now under that threat of tornado meaning conditions are favorable.

We talk a lot about the differences between watches and warnings and when we say there's a tornado warning, this is when we start to see those pictures, a warning means that a tornado has actually happened, either Doppler radar is indicating strong rotation or we've got storm spotters tracking this, just like we do now, Mason Dunn, the helicopter pilot there has been speaking on and off about some of the changes in this tornado, how it's been strengthening, how it's been weakening, how it's lifted up, that it's predominantly been moving in a westerly direction but we've seen some changes of it moving to the north and east, just for the record, the National Weather Service saying that this is moving up to the north and east and that Bison certainly could be impacted by this tornado.

In addition to the tornado, we've got other threats out there by the way as well. With this particular storm, you can see incredible hail to the size of tennis balls or possibly larger that can cause a lot of destruction to buildings, also to crops in this area. Look at that tornado looking like it's kind of roping out.

DUNN: That's what I was talking about, that other wall cloud is spinning now.

JERAS: There it is.

DUNN: Well, no, Gary, this whole wall cloud has just got so much motion in it, it's unbelievable out here right now. Yes, it is off the ground.

JERAS: There you can see that wall cloud he was talking about, that large low-hanging cloud that you can see right there in the middle of your screen.

DUNN: Right now --

JERAS: If there was another tornado to develop here, it would happen just about in the middle of this shot that you see on your TV screen, so we'll be monitoring that very closely.

DUNN: This whole wall cloud is rotating. I can confirm with that there's a lot of motion up here. I would be surprised if it does not drop another tornado and this wall cloud is headed right towards the town of Bison. I'm about two miles from northwest of Hennessey right now looking to the west-northwest.

JERAS: Can we do a split screen, guys? I would like to show you a few things here on radar, because we're also looking at two different super cells, two different potential areas of rotation. It will also give you a better idea of where this storm is near the Hennessey area. We very clearly see hook type echo (ph) that we've been talking about. There's the town of Hennessey. There you can see Wacomis (ph), being impacted by this storm. Wacomis could certainly be affected by some large hail as well.

All right. We're not seeing a tornado in this part of the picture any longer. But this is that wall cloud that we're talking about, that lowering that you can kind of see in the middle to the right hand of picture that you're looking at. OK, I'm going to telestraight (ph) on top of that, at least we've got the ability to do it. There you can see the low-hanging part of the cloud. If you look at some of these little jagged edges, you can kind of see that circulation along with the storm. If a tornado were to pop out, it would be somewhere in this area.