April Sees Tornado Outbreak and Drought Relief
Drought relief and severe weather topped April’s weather headlines with a parched northwest Oklahoma seeing its first significant moisture in months and central Oklahoma enduring a tornado outbreak. Eighteen tornadoes touched down on April 19, a day when severe weather was thought to be limited by a warm atmospheric lid above the surface. High temperatures over 90 degrees combined with a potent dryline to break that lid and initiate the storms that would eventually spawn the twisters. Of the 18 tornadoes, six were considered “strong”—EF2 or greater—with four rated at EF2 and two more considered EF3. All the tornadoes struck within 3 hours and 37 minutes, between 6:03 p.m. and 9:40 p.m. One EF3 struck the small community of Cole and damaged homes while destroying mobile homes. Another EF3 that touched down near Pink was only on the ground for 5 minutes and 6 tenths of a mile, but still damaged multiple homes and outbuildings. Possibly the most damaging tornado was an EF2 that traveled from southeast of Bethel Acres through the western and northern portions of Shawnee, including Oklahoma Baptist University and the Shawnee Mall. This multiple vortex tornado was on the ground for 15.5 miles with a maximum width of 1.3 miles and produced an 84 mph wind gust at the Shawnee Mesonet site as it passed close by. April’s tornadoes brought the preliminary 2023 total to 37, more than double the 1950-2022 January-April average of 16.5. In addition to the 18 tornadoes, large hail to the size of baseballs was reported with the storms throughout central Oklahoma. Oklahoma Emergency Management officials estimate that there were more than 34,000 power outages at the height of the storm. The Oklahoma State Dept. of Health report 188 weather-related injuries from the event, including three fatalities.
The month’s other significant weather event had a much happier ending when a 77-county soaking rainfall broke a months-long dry spell across northern and western Oklahoma. The rain began in earnest on April 25, at which point some areas of the Panhandle had gone without significant moisture for nearly 240 days, dating back to August 2022. The statewide average precipitation total still came up short at 2.26 inches, 1.33 inches below normal and ranked as the 29th driest April since records began in 1895. April’s highest total of 5.35 inches was recorded at the Mt. Henry Mesonet site. Miami brought up the rear with 0.68 inches. Fifty-four of the Mesonet’s 120 sites finished with 2 inches or less for the month. The first 4 months of the year were still hampered by long-term deficits to the north and west of Interstate-44, with that disparity producing the 20th driest January-April in west central Oklahoma versus the 14th wettest such period in the southeast. Statewide, the average finished at 8.96 inches, 0.67 inches below normal and ranked as the 61st wettest January-April on record.
April temperatures seemed to have two possible modes—either 5 to 10 degrees above normal through the first 20 days, or 10 to 20 degrees below normal to finish out the month . The cooler weather eventually won out and the statewide average temperature finished at 58.1 degrees to rank the month as the 40th coolest April on record at 1.4 degrees above normal. The month’s highest temperature was 96 degrees at Mangum on April 3, and the lowest came in at 14 degrees at Eva on April 6. The January-April statewide average temperature was 48.6 degrees, 0.8 degrees above normal and ranked as the 53rd coolest such period on record.
The Climate Prediction Center’s May temperature and precipitation outlooks were mostly noncommittal for Oklahoma other than increased odds of above normal precipitation across south central and southeastern Oklahoma. CPC’s May drought outlook did call for a reduction in intensity over areas to the north and west of I-44, although some of that improvement was due to the rains that fell in April. Drought is expected to persist through May in the Panhandle and far northeastern Oklahoma.