It once was officially one of the strongest tornadoes on Earth. Now, its not. The El Reno Tornado of May 31, 2013 was ruled a devastating EF-5 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. But, this week, Officials at the National Weather Service in Norman Oklahoma changed their mind and downgraded the storm to EF-3 status.
You might remember this twister made headlines by being one of the widest tornadoes, experts said, on record. It hit on the evening of May 31st, 2013 near Oklahoma City, as many folks crowded the highways headed home. The storm reached a width of more than 2.5 miles near the city of El Reno and caught several storm chasers off guard, including fellow Ohioan and Weather Channel Meteorologist Mike Bettes. His storm chasing vehicle was flipped several times by one of the multiple vortexes formed by the storm.
Originally, the storm was ruled a strong EF-3 tornado on the Enhanced Fujita Damage Scale, with winds estimated above 160 mph. But that strength estimate quickly changed when word came that mobile Doppler Radar equipment from nearby storm chasers had actually measured a wind speed just above ground of 296 miles per hour. The storm intensity was then upgraded to the highest level: an EF-5, rivaling the devastating Moore, Oklahoma Twister of 1999.
But, that designation has always included some controversy. The Enhanced Fujita Scale is a scale that estimates wind speeds based on the damage a tornado leaves behind. Even though wind speeds above ground were reportedly measured well above 250 mph, no comparable EF-5 damage was located on the ground. That is possibly due to the storm passing over mainly rural areas at its peak. Many buildings did suffer extensive damage. But, according to officials, nothing over EF-3 strength winds. With no confirmed ground level winds at EF-5 strength, the Weather Service has decided to drop the tornado back at its original designation: an EF-3.
The El Reno Tornado killed 8 people, including three professional storm chasers, and injured 151 people.