Monday's tornado outbreak began so quickly and was so long-lasting that National Weather Service meteorologists, still tracking developing violent weather, were unable to give an exact count of the twisters that had hit the state.
As tornadoes continued to form, meteorologist Bruce Thoren said weather service officials would not be able to get a clear count of the tornadoes until after they had viewed the storms' damage paths.
The weather service had known by midafternoon that conditions were ripe for violent weather, Thoren said.
"It seems like almost everything that formed got going really well today," he said. "Almost everything that went up ended up being a supercell."
Supercells are large, powerful thunderstorms with a rotating updraft, a key ingredient for tornado formation.
The most violent of the storms began taking on tornadic aspects in Lawton, tracking near Lake Ellsworth, Fletcher and Laverty before moving into the Chickasha area.
"That's when we knew there were serious problems," Thoren said.
That storm moved into the Oklahoma City metro area, flattening homes, scattering and smashing cars in south Oklahoma City, Moore and Midwest City.
Jim Purpura, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said the first tornado warning was issued about 4:45 p.m. for Comanche, Caddo and Grady counties. There were more than three storm paths along which tornado damage was intermittent.
The first path started around Fort Sill and moved from Lawton up through the Oklahoma City area into Lincoln County, producing three to five tornadoes.
Another path still being tracked about 10:15 p.m. was near Geary in Blaine County to north and east of Dover in Kingfisher County.
A third storm system went near Minco, through Yukon and Piedmont. Another path developed in eastern Cleveland County through Shawnee and into the south-central part of Lincoln County.
Thoren said winds blowing at varying speeds from varying directions and altitudes contributed to Monday's storms.
"We had real good veering of winds. It was blowing southeast in Oklahoma City. At 6,000 feet, it was blowing more to the southwest with higher speed. At 10,000 feet it was even more southwest to west, with even greater speed."
Severe thunderstorm activity stretched Monday night from north Texas, through Oklahoma into south-central Kansas.
The thunderstorms rumbled through the state in a generally northeasterly direction at about 35 mph, Thoren said.
"They were very long-lived cells that were producing very large tornadoes," he said.
Purpura said first indications are that the tornadoes that struck the metro area Monday evening are some of the most severe in the state and much more severe that those that hit some of the same areas in October.
With structures swept off their foundations, there are indications that the tornadoes may well have been as high as F4 on the Fujita scale with winds near 200 mph, he said.
Purpura said the last F4 tornado in Oklahoma was probably one that struck near Tulsa in 1993.Archive ID: 761618