HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – The National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma released new information on the May 31 El Reno, OK tornado today, stating that data shows it was 2.6 miles wide at its base- making it the widest tornado on record. The tornado was upgraded from a preliminary rating of EF-3 to a rating of EF-5, based on winds measured in the tornado at 296 miles per hour by the RaXPol radar- one of the highest wind speeds ever recorded (Doppler on Wheels recorded winds of over 300 miles per hour in the May 3, 1999 Moore, Oklahoma tornado).
With its astonishing width, the El Reno tornado takes the record from the 2004 Hallam, Nebraska F4 tornado, which was estimated to have been 2.5 miles wide.
How large is 2.6 miles, exactly? To put it into perspective, if you were driving at 60 miles per hour, it would take you just over two and a half minutes to drive the width of the tornado. 2.6 miles is exactly 4,576 yards, or almost the length of 46 football fields. The tallest building in Myrtle Beach- the Margate Tower- is 329 feet tall- it would take nearly 42 buildings of that height, laid bottom-to-top, to equal the width of the tornado. For ground reference, if a tornado of that width were in Myrtle Beach, it would extend from the site of the old Pavilion, all the way to Coastal Grand Mall.
More than a dozen people were killed during this monster tornado and the National Weather Service said the number could still rise. To have been such a violent tornado, it had a relatively short damage path length at 16.2 miles. The tornado remained over mostly rural areas, dissipating well before it reached largely populated communities. In that aspect, many residents of the Oklahoma City area were lucky- a tornado that large and with winds that high would have been beyond catastrophic in a densely populated area.
Four storm chasers were killed by this tornado- three professional researchers and one amateur storm chaser; their deaths are believed to be the first among scientific researchers while chasing tornadoes, according to the Storm Prediction Center.
This tornado will go down in the record books for its staggering size and unimaginable strength, and with the valuable information gathered by researchers, will likely become one of the most studied tornadoes of all time.