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Canadian River is not a factor in Moore tornadoes, scientist says

Although many believe the Canadian River has something to do with recent tornadoes in Moore, scientists say there's nothing they know that lends credence to that theory.
by Andrew Knittle Published: June 3, 2013

Standing within a stone's throw of Plaza Towers Elementary School the day an EF-5 tornado ripped through Moore and destroyed the school, a middle-age man repeated a theory many in Oklahoma share.

The man, who declined to provide his name, said he'd lived in Moore since 1991. He'd been through May 3, 1999. He'd been through the one in 2003.

“I've lived here a long time,” the man said that afternoon. “It's the river. The storm comes off the river and forms these huge tornadoes. I've read about it before.”

The man, who claimed moments before that he'd helped dig a baby out of the remains of a 7-11 in Moore, was sure “the river” was the cause of the tornadoes. Or that it at least had something to do with the twisters.

He is not alone.

During a recent town hall-style meeting in Norman, residents of the city relayed a different sentiment about the Canadian River.

Ann Riley, a Norman resident since 1974, said she bought a storm shelter after the May 10, 2010, tornadoes that tore through Norman.

Before that, she said she and her family had “bought into the lore that Norman couldn't be hit by a tornado.”

“We'd always heard that,” Riley said. “I think they said it was because the river kind of wraps around Norman.

“It seems silly now, it was probably just mathematical probability.”

‘Nothing special

about Moore'

If you've lived in the Oklahoma City area for any length of time, you've probably heard many theories and superstitions about tornadoes. Where they come from. Which cities are safest. Which ones aren't.

Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norman, likely has heard all the theories.

As for the Canadian River and its significance to the formation of tornadoes west of Moore, Smith said he doesn't believe there is any.

Smith said there is no scientific data that makes him believe that a river, or any other natural feature, causes or alters the path of tornadoes.

“They don't cause, change, stop, turn ... tornadoes,” he said. “Especially rivers with no water in them.”

According to Oklahoma Forestry Services, the Canadian River is 760 miles long and runs through parts of Colorado, New Mexico, Texas and all the way across Oklahoma. The river joins the Arkansas River roughly 40 miles west of the Oklahoma-Arkansas border.

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by Andrew Knittle
Investigative Reporter
Andrew Knittle has covered state water issues, tribal concerns and major criminal proceedings during his career as an Oklahoma journalist. He has won reporting awards from the state's Associated Press bureau and prides himself on finding a real...
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