The 2023 tornado season continues in full swing as multiple tornadoes touched down near the Oklahoma City metropolitan area Wednesday night, killing at least two people, according to local authorities. The two deaths reportedly occurred near Cole, Oklahoma, a town of about 600 people roughly 20 miles south of Oklahoma City. The number of injuries due to the storms is still being assessed.
[Related: Tornado outbreak killed dozens of people across the US this weekend.]
Severe weather included winds of up to 70 miles an hour and hail the size of a ping-pong ball. At least 13 tornadoes were reported across Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas overnight Wednesday. Of those reported storms, two tornadoes have already been confirmed in Iowa and one in Kansas. Oklahoma appears to be the hardest hit state with at least four confirmed tornadoes and 20,000 homes without power.
A large tornado was confirmed in Shawnee, a city of 30,000 about 60 miles east of Cole. The National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, said that particular storm was moving “erratically” into north Shawnee around 10 p.m. local time Wednesday. Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee reported “significant” damage to its campus, but said no injuries were reported. The university canceled classes Thursday and Friday and said it was relocating students.
He oklahoma red cross is opening shelters in the central part of the state for those affected by the storms.
On Thursday, the threat of severe storms is expected to move to the east, with storms possible in eastern Texas, northwestern Louisiana, southeastern Oklahoma, southeastern Missouri and a large swath of Arkansas.
Tornadoes can occur all over the world, but the United States sees more than any other country with an average of around 1,150 to 1,200 per year. The geography and climate of the US provide the key ingredients for spinning storms: cold, dry air mixing with warm, moist air.
This year has already been a deadly year for tornadoes. In March, a series of severe storms and a powerful EF-4 tornado in Mississippi’s Lower Delta killed at least 25 people and devastated the town of Rolling Fork, Mississippi. EF-4 tornadoes have peak wind gusts of 166 to 200 miles per hour and account for only about two percent of all tornadoes.
[Related: Strong storms and strange weather patterns sweep the US.]
Earlier this month, at least 100 tornadoes were reported in an outbreak of severe weather that struck Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, Delaware, Maryland and New Jersey. At least 32 people died and the cities were completely leveled.
Severe weather could only increase with climate change, but scientists aren’t quite ready to declare that a warming planet means more tornadoes. A study published in January forecasts that by the year 2100, the average annual number of supercells — the large spinning storms that typically produce the most severe tornadoes — hitting the eastern United States will increase by 6.6 percent.
To prepare for a tornado, the NWS recommends keeping an emergency kit stocked, following local weather reports, and practicing a tornado plan. During a storm, go to the lowest point of your home or building and stay away from windows until the storm passes.