The El Reno, Okla., tornado, which touched down on Friday, May 31, 2013, was up to 2.6 miles wide. That is comparable to the distance between the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building, which are 2.8 mies apart, in New York City.
Senior Vice President of AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions and Tornado Expert Mike Smith described the El Reno, Okla., tornado, which is considered the widest tornado in recorded history, as a "super tornado."
He fears that one of these super tornadoes could hit a major city, and it would require a much more upscale search, rescue and recovery response than has been done with less intense tornadoes or devastating tornadoes hitting rural or suburban areas.
"A super tornado, as I have defined it, is F5 and 2 miles or wider," Smith said. "Less than one tornado in 50,000 would be categorized as a super tornado. Put one of these [super tornadoes] into a major city such as Dallas, Wichita and Kansas City, and it would be a major disaster."
There would be the potential for thousands of casualties. Smith stated that a super tornado could cost tens of billions of dollars if it hit a major city.
Smith recently held an exercise in Atlanta, where he described the potential impacts of super tornadoes to FEMA representatives and emergency managers.
The El Reno tornado was the second EF5 tornado in two weeks to strike central Oklahoma. Although the Moore, Okla., tornado was not a super tornado, with a width of 1.3 miles, it was upgraded to EF5 status.
Including the El Reno and Moore tornadoes, there have been 60 EF5/F5 tornadoes since 1950. A small percentage of these have reached Smith's super tornado status.
Smith named the 2007 Trousdale, Kan., with a width of about 2 miles. The 2004 Hallam, Neb., tornado was officially an F4 but had a width of 2.5 miles and was the prior record width holder.
Smith stated his recent presentation that super tornadoes occur, on average, about once every decade.
"Thus far they have all hit relatively rural areas," Smith said, "But, we know that statistically, whether it is 50 years from now or five weeks from now, it will occur and it is going to require a completely different type of response."
Content contributed by AccuWeather.com Meteorologist Meghan Evans.
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