A storm that produced tornadoes across parts of southwestern Oklahoma bore down on suburban Oklahoma City during the evening rush hour Wednesday, and forecasters declared a tornado emergency for Moore, which was hit hard two years ago.
Forecasters had warned that severe storms could strike through much of Tornado Alley. Twisters were also reported in Kansas and Nebraska.
No injuries were reported in Wednesday’s weather. Local television stations reported that some storm spotters had seen signs of damage southwest of the Oklahoma capital.
National Weather Service meteorologist Angela Pfannkuch said the rural town of Roseland, Nebraska, near Grand Island, was hit at 4:22 p.m. Wednesday. No injuries were immediately reported to emergency management personnel and it wasn’t yet known whether homes and buildings were damaged.
A weak storm formed in southeastern Oklahoma shortly after 3 p.m., according to weather service meteorologist Michael Scotten, and the supercell thunderstorm that created it held together until it reached Oklahoma City.
School districts in the path of the storm held their pupils in safe places. Among the communities in the path of the storm was Moore, where 24 died in an EF-5 twister May 20, 2013. Seven schoolchildren were among the dead.
Wednesday’s storm was not as strong as the storm two years ago, though appeared ominous nonetheless. Live television and accompanying commentary raised the alarm, along with tornado sirens in dozens of towns.
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management opened its operations center but at early evening no county had requested aid.
“We haven’t gotten any reports of damage from any of our local emergency managers yet,” spokeswoman Keli Cain said. Highway officials closed Interstate 44; radar images showed the storm hugging the highway as it approached central Oklahoma.
Patrons at the Newcastle Casino were directed to a safe room at the facility, said Kym Koch, a spokeswoman for the casino. “They’re sheltering in place,” Koch said.
Richard Thompson of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma — which was also in the path of the Oklahoma City storm — said bad weather was possible anywhere from Nebraska to west Texas.
“This is the first of potentially several days of a severe weather risk,” Thompson said. “There could be some pretty heavy rain overnight and eventually flooding could be a concern.”
Areas of central Oklahoma saw heavy rainfall and some flooding overnight and early Wednesday, National Weather Service meteorologist Jonathan Kurtz said. Nearly 4 inches of rain fell in Norman, where the Oklahoma Department of Transportation shut down several on-ramps to Interstate 35. The ramps re-opened early Wednesday afternoon.
“People just really need to stay weather aware, have a plan and understand that severe storms are possible across portions of the southern plains almost daily through Saturday,” Kurtz said.
In south-central Nebraska, about 110 miles southwest of Omaha, the Nuckolls County Sheriff’s Office said a tornado hit near the Kansas border, between Hardy and Ruskin. Deputies were checking houses to ensure everyone was safe.
SOURCE: TIME, The Associated Press, Ken Miller