A tornado striking a community at night is probably about the worst-case scenario people would have to contend with in tornado alley, yet that is what occurred in Woodward, Okla., early Sunday morning April 15, 2012.
It was 65 years ago when a deadly tornado ripped through Woodward, on April 9, 1947. Most of the current residents of the town were not yet born on that fateful day, when dozens were killed.
The tornado this past weekend struck around 12:18 a.m. CDT and was illuminated by lightning strikes and transformer flashes as it crossed town.
Sadly, the violent storm early Sunday claimed the lives of six of the town's approximately 12,000 residents, destroyed nearly 89 homes and over a dozen businesses.
The tornado that hit Woodward may have been on the ground or skipped along the ground for miles.
The parent storm began minutes earlier near Arnett, Okla., around 11:50 p.m., according to the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla. The storm tracked the northeast, reaching EF2 to EF3 strength and up to 1/4 of a mile wide as it approached Woodward.
Perhaps the only thing worse would have been a more violent tornado with no warning whatsoever.
Woodward was hit by thunderstorms hours earlier, on April 14. At West Woodward Airport, thunderstorms occurred between 3:00 and 6:00 p.m. One of these storms yielded a report of a short-lived tornado several miles north of Woodward.
According to Woodward officials, the tower which relays a signal to the town's 20 warning sirens was hit by lightning and not operating properly prior to the arrival of the tornado, which hit just past midnight.
According to Severe Weather Expert Henry Margusity, "Lightning strike data suggests multiple strikes in town in the vicinity of police and fire dispatch towers."
Location of police and fire department radio towers in Woodward, Okla.
"One strike occurred around 12:03 CDT a.m. in vicinity of the downtown tower and 12:15 CDT close to the AMOCO tower southeast of town," Margusity added.
Fortunately, plenty of prior notice was given to the people of Woodward and millions of other residents on the Plains.
Alerts of the potential for violent storms went out by the National Weather Service, AccuWeather.com and various sources of the media at the start of last week and were followed by constant updates and warnings into the weekend.
AccuWeather.com's Chief Meteorologist Elliot Abrams stated earlier on Friday that "the situation for this weekend over the central and southern Plains is about as dangerous as it can get," addressing the severity and timing of the storms.
Some Woodward residents reported hearing a faint, mangled siren prior to the storm's arrival.
According to the Associated Press, emergency management officials urged residents to take advantage of weather radios, smart phones and television warnings for updates on the storms.
The officials stated that sirens are not intended to wake those sleeping or living in well sound-insulated buildings, but rather to warn those outdoors to move indoors and get updates on the situation.
The lightning taking out emergency communications is but an example of what can happen during severe thunderstorms.
This is why we recommend not standing outdoors filming or chasing tornadoes as there is no way to tell exactly where lightning will strike.
We also recommend that every household have a battery-powered radio and/or weather radio on hand in case of power failure.
A fully charged smart phone may also prove to be extremely valuable as a means to track the storms. Most cell towers have auxiliary power and redundant units to cover for an outage.
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A storm coming on Sunday has the potential to bring snow, ice and travel problems to the Washington, D.C., area.
A storm coming on Sunday has the potential to bring snow and travel problems to the Philadelphia area.
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