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Largest and deadliest May 24 tornado in Oklahoma ranked an EF5

Huge twister moving 75 miles through El Reno, Piedmont, Cashion and Guthrie exceeded 200 miles per hour, killing nine
BY BRYAN DEAN Published: June 2, 2011

The rating validates the unusually stern language forecasters used on the morning of May 24, when they warned “large, strong, long-track tornadoes” were likely to hit in central Oklahoma sometime after 3 p.m.

The first tornado warning was issued minutes after 3 p.m., and seven twisters touched down that evening, including the EF5 and two EF4 tornadoes. Wind speeds in the two EF4 tornadoes were just under 200 miles per hour, forecasters said.

Warnings heeded

Smith said no one at the weather service is celebrating the accuracy of the warnings.

The strongly-worded warnings early in the day spread quickly both in traditional news media and through social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter. Many businesses dismissed workers early so they could prepare for severe weather.

Smith said Oklahomans' response to the warnings was unprecedented. “It's encouraging to know our capabilities are getting better to get the word out in advance,” Smith said. “You can't measure how many people didn't die.”