Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
May 2003 tornado outbreak
The May 2003 tornado outbreak in the United States was a cluster of events that occurred from May 4 to May 10, 2003. There were 393 tornado reports in 19 states, 1,587 reports of large hail, and 740 reports of wind damage. More severe weather broke out this week alone than any other week in U.S. history. There was a tornado outbreak every day during the week. The old record for most tornado reports in one week was 245 during the week of The Super Outbreak (March 30 to April 5, 1974).
Why did it happen?
The main cause of this massive outbreak was that there was a persistent warm air mass over the central United States. That was coupled with a strong jet stream, strong upper level winds, atmospheric instability, and an intense low-pressure system. Because of this, there were nearly 2,500 reports of severe weather in one week.
The Pierce City, Missouri Tornado
The most notable tornado of the week was the one that hit in Pierce City, Missouri, maybe 25 miles east of Springfield. According to reports, nearly all of the buildings in the town were damaged, destroyed, or liable to collapse. A National Guard armory where some people took shelter was flattened. Two people were killed and six were missing. The Pierce City tornado was a F-3 on the Fujita scale.
Later on in the week...
The record-breaking week of severe weather hit the central United States relentlessly. On May 8, an F4 tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma and portions of southern Oklahoma City. No one was killed but 100 were injured. Parts of this tornado's path coincided with the path of the more devastating F5 tornado that struck Moore on May 3, 1999 (see Oklahoma Tornado Outbreak). The very next day, on May 9, a series of tornadoes hit northern portions of the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. At Warr Acres, Oklahoma, an 80-year-old man named Leonard Kitchens was killed when he hit his head on a door jamb while running for safety. The house was spared, but the man died the next day. And in nothing more than a coincidence, the man's father (Harry Kitchens) was one of the six people that died in the Leedey, Oklahoma tornado of May 31, 1947.
The final killer tornado of the event was an early morning tornado that hit in Harrodsburg, Kentucky on May 11. One death and one injury was reported. The injured woman was found near the shore of a river. The other woman had apparently drowned.
2003 Tornado Season in Perspective
The 2003 tornado season had been relatively slow up until May 1. In fact, around May 1 through July 1 was the most active time of the year in tornadoes. Our first tornado report of the year came on February 15. About 412 tornadoes were reported during the first 10 days of May, more than 500 were reported during the entire month.
Here are the number of confirmed tornadoes from each day:
- Total - 393
A little unusual...
Sacramento, California had a large hail report on May 8, and a tornado was reported in Northern Arizona on May 6; however, it is unknown whether or not these reports were part of the same storm system.
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