May 1981 tornado outbreak

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May 1981 tornado outbreak
Path of the Binger, Oklahoma Tornado on May 22, 1981
Type Tornado outbreak
Duration May 22–23, 1981
Tornadoes confirmed 43 confirmed
Max rating1 F4 tornado
Duration of tornado outbreak2 ~26 hours
Damage $32.8 million (1981 USD)
Casualties 12 injuries
Areas affected Central United States
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale 2Time from first tornado to last tornado

The May 1981 Tornado Outbreak was a tornado outbreak that occurred on May 22 in western and Central Oklahoma and on May 23 from eastern and central Oklahoma to central Iowa. 43 tornadoes were reported during the two-day outbreak, of which 14 were recorded as strong or violent (F2 or greater on the Fujita Scale). The outbreak claimed no fatalities and there were only 12 injuries from a tornado that touched down near Clinton, Oklahoma causing significant damage. The tornado outbreak overall left $32.8 million (1981 USD) in damage.[1][2]

Storm history

On the morning of May 22, 1981, winds moving in from the south brought moist air across Texas and into western Oklahoma and dry line formed across the Texas panhandle. In addition, the interaction between a layer of warm air aloft and the return flow of moist air led to widespread low clouds across the state of Oklahoma. Later that day, the low clouds broke as predicted by forecasters as the dry line moved east into western Oklahoma. However, the clearing was limited to a relatively narrow zone ahead of the dry line. Despite this, daytime heating allowed thunderstorms to form by mid-afternoon.[1]

Cordell Oklahoma tornado

The first tornado formed northwest of Cordell, Oklahoma at 4:17 pm (CDT). The tornado damaged a mobile home and several barns as it moved northeast over a six-mile path. The tornado was photographed 5 times by a storm chaser team during a project conducted by the National Severe Storms Laboratory and Mississippi State University. The tornado turned out to be a significant F2. Luckily, no one was hurt. Many storm chasers sometimes nicknamed the tornado the "Wizard of Oz" tornado because of its unusual ropey shape. In fact, the tornado had no curve at the top as it was nearing its decaying stage.

Binger tornado

A second thunderstorm formed south of the thunderstorm that produced the Cordell tornado. The second thunderstorm moved northeast, causing some concern among officials and forecasters as the storm was heading directly towards Oklahoma City. The second thunderstorm produced 6-12 tornadoes across a wide area stretching from Fort Cobb Reservoir to Union City. The thunderstorm later encountered cooler, less unstable air and dissipated near Oklahoma City.[1]

Photograph of the Binger Tornado

One of the group of the tornadoes, the Binger Tornado which touched down near Binger at 6:45 pm (CDT). At the time of formation, it was a weak F1 Tornado until it reached a point of 3.5 miles, west-southwest of the Scott community. At that point it strengthened and reach F4 status 1 mile east of the neighborhood. The tornado maintained F4 strength as it crossed Highway 37 until it dissipated near the Canadian River. Damage from the tornado was severe as it destroyed an old uninhabited house outside of Scott. Two other houses were also destroyed but their walls remained intact. A mile east, the tornado ripped the roof, walls and carport off another house while two more houses were completely destroyed. In addition the tornado uprooted or damaged several trees and flipped over automobiles and farm equipment during its 16-mile duration.[3]

Near Highway 37, the tornado blew away several storage tanks at an Amoco oil storage facility. One of the tanks, which was out of operation because of a lightning strike, was found 1500 ft south of its original location. The other two tanks blown away by the tornado were never found. A 1/2 mile away, the tornado destroyed a farmhouse and a barn and wrecked a pickup truck. Because the path of the Binger Tornado was mostly over unpopulated areas and due to early warnings and observations, there were no fatalities or injuries.[3]

Other tornadoes

After the Binger tornado dissipated, a complex of severe thunderstorms regenerated further west across west-central Oklahoma near Foss Reservoir. The thunderstorms produced at least five tornadoes, one of which affected the area around Clinton, Oklahoma causing 12 injuries. In Alfalfa, Oklahoma, two tornadoes were reported, one which did F2 Damage.[1][4] Thunderstorms along and east of a line from Oklahoma City, Kansas City and Omaha, Nebraska produced 29 tornadoes on May 23 across Oklahoma, Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. The same system travelled northwest and produced an F3 tornado that struck Bowl Bay, McCurdy Island on May 25.

Tornado table

Confirmed tornadoes by Fujita rating
F0 F1 F2 F3 F4 F5 Total
15 14 11 2 1 0 43

Confirmed tornadoes

May 22, 1981 event

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F2 N of New Cordell Washita 2217 6.9 miles
(11 km)
See section above
F1 E of Lake Valley Washita 2325 1 miles
(1.6 km)
F2 E of Cowden Washita, Caddo 0007 5 miles
(8 km)
Tornado damaged a house, outbuildings, trees, power poles, and wheat crop.
F1 SW of Arapaho Custer 0015 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
Tornado struck several farms, damaging houses, outbuildings, farm equipment, and crops.
F0 W of Albert Caddo 0029 0.3 miles
(0.5 km)
F2 N of Mountain View to W of Eakla Kiowa, Washita, Caddo 0030 15.4 miles
(24.6 km)
A dozen homes were torn apart. Outbuildings, farm equipment, and crops were damaged as well.
F2 N of Stafford Washita, Custer 0030 10.4 miles
(16.6 km)
Barns were destroyed and two homes were damaged in Arapaho. A gas station was completely destroyed.
F4 NE of Binger Caddo, Canadian 0049 16.7 miles
(26.7 km)
See section above
F1 NW of Clinton Custer 0100 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F1 NW of Union City Canadian 0132 2 miles
(3.2 km)
F3 N of Clinton Custer 0155 10.3 miles
(16.5 km)
A few homes were badly damaged in Clinton. A convenience store was destroyed near Arapaho.
F2 E of Greenfield Blaine 0340 unknown Several farms were damaged. A barn on one farm was destroyed, with five-foot-deep concrete moorings ripped out.
F1 NE of Cleveland Osage 0700 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 N of Beverly Lincoln 2315 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
F0 Moorhead Clay 2317 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
Source: Tornado History Project - May 22, 1981 Storm Data Grazulis (1981)

May 23, 1981 event

F# Location County Time (UTC) Path length Damage
F0 S of Clarinda Page 2032 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 SW of Grant Montgomery 2032 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 W of Canby Adair 2115 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 NE of Anita Cass 2130 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 E of Canby Adair 2202 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 N of Arbor Hill Adair 2215 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 S of Dexter Madison 2236 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F2 SW of Beaconsfield Ringgold 2300 15.9 miles
(25.4 km)
Several farm homes and outbuildings were damaged. A combine was thrown across a road and wrapped around a tree.
F1 SE of Earlham Madison 2328 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F2 W of Osage Mitchell 2355 3.8 miles
(6.1 km)
Five farms sustained damage. Three barns, three machine sheds, a trailer, and a garage were destroyed.
F1 E of Bristow Creek 2100 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F1 NW of Hoover Garvin 2200 2 miles
(3.2 km)
F0 NW of Lenapah Noata 2230 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F1 Sulphur area Murray 2305 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F1 SW of McLoud Pottawatomie 2325 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F1 SE of Aydelotte Pottawatomie 2330 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F2 NE of Copan Washington, Nowata, Montgomery (KS) 2330 15.2 miles
(24.3 km)
Two frame homes and three trailers were destroyed along the track.
F2 NW of Elliot Nowata 2335 4.5 miles
(7.2 km)
F3 Durant area Bryan 0058 9.7 miles
(15.5 km)
Moved along the west edge of Durant. Significant damage to resort property at Lake Texoma. Caused $5,000,00 in damage.
F1 SW of Sasakwa Bryan 0100 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F2 E of Colcord Delaware 0118 unknown
F0 NW of Wallula Leavenworth 2115 2 miles
(3.2 km)
F2 W of Scipio Anderson 2115 1.5 miles
(2.4 km)
A trailer was completely destroyed. A farm struck by the tornado sustained heavy damage to the house, outbuildings, and farm equipment.
F1 S of Centerville Linn 2215 2 miles
(3.2 km)
F0 E of Coffeyville Montgomery 2325 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
F1 SW of Valeda Montgomery 2340 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
F0 W of Ferrelview Platte 2153 3.8 miles
(6.1 km)
F0 N of Nevada Vernon 2355 0.5 miles
(0.8 km)
Source: Tornado History Project - May 23, 1981 Storm Data Grazulis (1981)

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Mike Branick (2006). "A Look Back on the Tornado Outbreak in Oklahoma on 22 May 1981--The Binger Tornado" (PDF). NOAA. Retrieved 2006-10-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. NCDC (1981). "Oklahoma event details". NOAA. Retrieved 2006-10-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Dr. James R. McDonald, Dr. H. Scott Norville, and Timothy P. Marshall (2006). "DAMAGE SURVEY OF THE BINGER, OKLAHOMA TORNADO OF MAY 22, 1981". National Severe Storms Laboratory. Retrieved 2006-10-27. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. NSSL (2006). "Public Domain Tornado Images". Retrieved 2006-10-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>