NWS releases statement about El Reno tornado rating

A May 31 tornado near El Reno, OK, that killed eight people was preliminarily rated an EF-3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. After reviewing data from a research radar near the storm, the preliminary rating was upgraded to an EF-5.  This was a controversial move at the time, with many arguing tornadoes should be rated solely on the damage they do while others arguing all available data should be taken into account.

Late Friday, the NWS officially rated the tornado an EF-3, not an EF-5, citing the fact that EF-3 damage was found.  Local media meteorologists and others were notified via phone calls, but no press release or public information statement was provided at that time.

Keli Pirtle from NOAA Public Affairs in Norman provided me this statement via email, explaining the reason behind the change:

NOAA National Weather Service officially rated the El Reno, Okla., tornado of May 31, 2013, an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale. It will be listed with that rating in Storm Data, a publication considered the official record of weather events.

WFO Norman announced a preliminary rating of EF5 on June 4, 2013, following analysis of velocity data taken by two high-resolution mobile research radars. This analysis showed wind speeds of at least 295 miles an hour within 500 feet of the ground. The threshold for an EF5 designation is 200 miles an hour.

Despite the radar-measured wind speeds, the survey team did not find damage that would support a rating higher than EF3.

While the wind measurements from the mobile radars are considered reliable, NWS policy for determining EF ratings is based on surveys of ground damage.

NWS is exploring whether policy should change to allow the use of experimental radar data in future EF determinations.

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About Nate Johnson

Meteorologist and Executive Producer at WRAL-TV. Lecturer at NC State. Panelist on WeatherBrains. Geek. (Opinions are mine only. C'mon, you think anyone else wants them?)
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6 Responses to NWS releases statement about El Reno tornado rating

  1. The “founders” of the EF-scale stated: “The technology of portable Doppler radar should also be a part of the EF Scale process, either as a direct measurement, when available, or as a means of
    validating the wind speeds estimated by the experts…”

    This can be found on PDF page 18 of the EF-scale proposal document: http://www.spc.noaa.gov/efscale/ef-ttu.pdf

  2. RDale says:

    True, but that’s not part of the NWS policy and they have the last word.

  3. My point is, the scientists (including engineers) that developed the program felt that ground based wind measurements should also be included, when available. I believe this is also the reason that NWSFO Norman took the action that they did in the first place. I have seen no documentation as to why this point was not included in the “final” EF-scale program when adopted. Would be interesting to see the justification (rather than just someone’s opinion)…

  4. Pingback: Tornado Quest Gee-O-Science Links For Aug. 26 – Sept. 1, 2013 | Welcome To Tornado Quest

  5. Pingback: The 5 top U.S. weather stories of 2013

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