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4 dead after severe weather outbreak unleashes nearly 60 tornadoes, forces dozens of water rescues 

By Kevin Byrne, AccuWeather staff writer
By Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
By Chaffin Mitchell, AccuWeather staff writer
May 23, 2019, 3:32:55 AM EDT

A significant severe weather outbreak erupted across the central and southern Plains Monday into Tuesday unleashing drenching rain, flash flooding and nearly 60 tornado reports.

Over the course of the outbreak, four fatalities and several injuries were reported.

Two people were killed in a traffic accident near Springfield, Missouri, on Tuesday, according to the Associated Press. The Missouri Highway Patrol told the AP that heavy rain was a contributing factor in the crash. One fatality was reported in Perkins, Oklahoma, about 45 miles northeast of Oklahoma City, when a driver drowned on Tuesday after driving around a high water warning barricade and into a flooded roadway, according to emergency management officials.

A tornado-related death was reported in Adair, Iowa, after severe storms ripped through the area early Wednesday. The Adair County Sheriff's office told the AP that emergency responders recovered the body of 74-year-old Linda Brownlee, while 78-year-old Harold Brownlee was flown to a hospital to be treated for injuries. The Adair/Guthrie County Emergency Manager said one building was destroyed and two to three outbuildings were damaged on the farm, located just south of Interstate 80.

A storm survey team from the National Weather Service in Des Moines confirmed Wednesday that an EF2 tornado had produced the damage.


Aerial footage showed the impact of severe flooding across Oklahoma on Wednesday, May 22, 2019. Officials reported numerous road closures including the Interstate 40 near El Reno.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Flooding in Kingfisher, Okla. is pictured from the air, Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Flooding following heavy rains was an issue across the state.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Flooding in Kingfisher, Okla. is pictured Tuesday, May 21, 2019. Flooding following heavy rains was an issue across the state.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Water flows around an abandoned vehicle near US Highway 66 following heavy rains Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in El Reno, Okla.

(AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt surveys flooding damage near Minco, Okla. from the air Tuesday, May 21, 2019, following heavy rains across the state.

(Twitter photo/OK Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety)

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety (DPS) released photos after the initial report of tornado damage in and around Mangum, Oklahoma.

(Photo/Nebraska State Patrol)

A tornado crossed Highway 75 just south of Dawson, Nebraska, on Tuesday, May 21, 2019 in Richardson County.


1.5 miles northwest of Junction City, Kansas.


Impassable roads north of Warrensburg, Missouri.

(Twitter photo/OK Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety)

Three to five structures were severely damaged, according to the initial tornado report in Mangum. Other buildings reported minor damage and numerous power lines were down.

(Twitter photo/OK Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety)

No storm-related injuries have been reported at the time of the initial report in Mangum, Oklahoma. An accident occurred involving two vehicles with storm chasers.


This image made from video provided by KWTV-KOTV shows two funnel clouds formed in Crescent, Okla., Monday, May 20, 2019.

(Instagram photo/@kyleheth12)

An Instagram user captured this image of the tornado that hit Mangum, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2019.


Rope tornado in Paducah, Texas.

(Instagram photo/@kyleheth12)

A view of a tornado that struck Mangum, Oklahoma, on May 20 as it moved across Highway 283 and into town, with debris swirling around its base.

(Instagram photo/@kyleheth12)

A tornado is seen touching down in Mangum, Oklahoma, on May 20, 2019.


Rope tornado in Paducah, Kentucky.


Baseball-sized hail in Wellington, Texas.


Extremely large hail in Wellington, Texas.

(Photo/Claremore Oklahoma Police)

Due to high water, this road was closed near the Claremore Lake in Claremore, Oklahoma, on May 21, 2019.

(Photo/Oklahoma County Sheriff)

A flooded road as seen on May 21, 2019 in Oklahoma County, Oklahoma.

(Photo/Oklahoma Highway Patrol and Department of Public Safety)

Water rescues were needed for at least five homes around the Skiatook, Oklahoma, area on Tuesday, May 21, 2019.

Severe weather reached the St. Louis area Tuesday evening, and a tornado warning was issued for the city as thousands of hockey fans gathered inside the Enterprise Center for the NHL playoff game between the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks.

Tornado sirens could be heard blaring around the city as the skies darkened. The Federal Aviation Administration suspended all flights into and out of the city for a time. By the time the storms cleared, the city was largely spared from any major damage and there were no reported tornadoes in the St. Louis area.

Tuesday proved to be slightly more active than Monday in terms of the number of tornado reports. There were 33 on Tuesday, with the majority coming from Missouri and Kansas, according to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center (SPC). Twenty-four reports were listed on Monday, with the most occurring in Texas and Oklahoma.

Elsewhere in Missouri, a severe storm and possible tornado left significant damage behind at Lucas Oil Speedway in Wheatland late Monday into early Tuesday, forcing the postponement of this weekend's Lucas Oil Show-Me 100.

"The storm moved into the area shortly before midnight and damaged several buildings, destroyed the grandstands at the off road track and also damaged some of the the grandstands at the dirt rack," track officials said in a statement. "There also was damage in the campground and debris was scattered throughout the facility. Several vehicles on-site were toppled, including some campers that had arrived for the weekend."

At least seven people were injured on the site, according to the AP.

Missouri Gov. Mike Parson declared a state of emergency in response to the persistent severe storms. The governor also said the state emergency management team is also monitoring river levels on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers as they are expected to rise into the weekend.

A confirmed EF1 tornado was also reported over the Tulsa International Airport Tuesday morning. No fatalities have been reported, and only one man was injured when a tree fell on his home. No damage was reported to the airport, but damage was confirmed in another part of town.

Three confirmed tornadoes tracked north of Topeka, Kansas, on Tuesday.

Flash flooding caused numerous issues on Tuesday, particularly around the Oklahoma City and Tulsa areas, as there were reports of many road closures, including portions of Interstate 40. Several swift-water rescues were necessary in the El Reno area after flooding surrounded a family's home.

The threat for dangerous weather is not over. River flooding remained a concern around portions of Oklahoma, including in Tulsa.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers initiated a flood release rate of 160,000 cubic feet per second (CFS) from Keystone Dam, a reservoir in northeastern Oklahoma, Tuesday evening. On Wednesday, they said they would increase the flow amount to 215,000 CFS.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt went on a flyover of the Arkansas River before holding a joint press conference Wednesday morning to discuss flooding preparations.

Bynum previously declared an emergency for Tulsa to initiate their emergency action plan.

"At this morning’s release rate of 160,000 CFS our levee system and buffer created by RiverParks were working exactly as they were designed to work," Bynum said in a statement.

The City of Bixby, Oklahoma, located about 30 minutes south of Tulsa, said Wednesday it was recommending evacuations for neighborhoods, homes and structures in flood plain areas because of the increased rate of release.

"The Army Corp of Engineers has recently announced they will begin releasing 185,000 cfs at 10 a.m., 205,000 cfs at 12 p.m., [and] 215,000 cfs at 2 p.m.," officials said.

AccuWeather National Weather Jonathan Petramala is in the Tulsa area and said the Arkansas River is running as high as it's been in years.

Following the press conference, Bynum told Petramala that the continued increase of water from Keystone Dam "is a concern."

The Arkansas River is forecast to crest at 21 feet, moderate flood stage, during Wednesday afternoon. Tulsa has not experienced flood levels on the Arkansas this high since 1986 when the river crested at 25.2 feet.


This chart shows the predicted crest of the Arkansas River in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 22, 2019. (Image/NWS Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service)

The Arkansas River near Muskogee, currently in major flood stage, reached its second highest crest on record during Wednesday night. It is expected to crest near 43.5 feet by this weekend, which is shy of the all-time record crest of 48.2 feet from May 21, 1943.

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The Oklahoma Highway Patrol and the Oklahoma County Sheriff's Office tweeted several photos of roads completely submerged beneath floodwaters on Tuesday. The Deer Creek Fire Protection District performed "an incredible water rescue" of a person clinging to a tree after attempting to drive across a flooded road, the sheriff's office said. Meanwhile, Skiatook, Oklahoma, residents were awaiting rescue in five flooded homes.

Swift-moving floodwaters were a common sight in many portions of northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas, according to AccuWeather Video Journalist Blake Naftel. He captured video of the incredible force of high water rushing across I-35.

AccuWeather Extreme Meteorologist Reed Timmer captured footage of a tornado tearing through the Mangum, Oklahoma, area Monday evening, just days after he survived a close encounter with a tornado in Nebraska.

The Mangum tornado, which has still not been rated by the National Weather Service, tore through city limits and caused damage to a number of structures. A 112-year-old home suffered extensive damaged after its windows were blown out and its roof was ripped off. The family reportedly emerged from the strike by the twister without suffering any injuries. 

The National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, found evidence of five tornadoes during this outbreak, two were rated EF1 while three were rated EF0, in the surrounding area. They are still investigating others.

Tornado mash up Monday, May 20, 2019

AccuWeather storm chasers captured multiple tornadoes on Monday, May 20, 2019.

The SPC issued a high risk for severe weather across portions of Oklahoma and Texas on Monday, the first time a high risk area has been issued by the agency since May 2017. The severe outbreak brought the highest tornado risk since April 14, 2012.

In addition to Mangum, confirmed tornadoes left behind damage near Paducah, Texas, and Leach, Oklahoma.

Monday's severe weather danger came on the heels of a severe weather outbreak that struck the region late last week through the weekend.

Besides spawning tornadoes and frequent lightning strikes, storms on Monday produced golf ball-sized hail and strong wind gusts from West Texas to Missouri.

In advance of Monday's storms, schools closed in parts of Oklahoma, including the Oklahoma City metro area. Closures continued on Tuesday in Oklahoma due to flash flooding concerns, including at Oklahoma State University in Stillwater.

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