Deadly Oklahoma tornado hits Bartlesville, Barnsdall; more storms forecast

A large, destructive tornado tore through the cities of Barnsdall and Bartlesville in northeastern Oklahoma on Monday night, as dangerous storms swept across the Plains.

One person died in Barnsdall, a city of about 1,000 people roughly 30 miles north of Tulsa, Osage County Sheriff Eddie Virden told local media. The sheriff’s office was still looking for at least one missing person Tuesday afternoon.

The National Weather Service received reports of at least 17 tornadoes Monday night, including at least eight in Oklahoma, but the twister activity was generally less intense than feared. Severe thunderstorms also swept through Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Joplin, Mo., Kansas City and Des Moines on Monday night.

Monday marked the first of four days in which the Weather Service predicts an elevated threat of dangerous storms that could produce tornadoes as well as large hail and damaging winds. Tuesday’s highest storm threat is from the Midwest to Ohio Valley, including Indianapolis and Cincinnati, while Wednesday’s is in the mid-South and Tennessee Valley, including Nashville and Louisville. On Thursday, scattered severe storms could affect the southeast and Mid-Atlantic.

The storms come after at least 300 tornadoes were recorded in April, the second most in a month on record. Monday marked the 12th-straight day with at least one tornado in the United States.

Damage in Barnsdall and Bartlesville

As daylight broke Tuesday, images on social media revealed devastation in Barnsdall. Many homes and businesses were flattened, trees were mangled and defoliated, and vehicles flipped and crushed. One video showed a door lodged in a tree.

Radar indicated the twister hurled debris up to 30,000 feet into the air. Video showed the twister’s large, ominous wedgelike funnel.

Jerry Roberts, the emergency management director in Osage County, said Barnsdall was “still in rescue mode” early Tuesday.

Firefighters and police officers are “going through the neighborhood trying to locate any trapped persons,” he said in a phone call. “There’s been several that went to the hospital.”

Roberts added the twister appeared “to be somewhere in the neighborhood of over a half-mile wide, but we don’t know how long it is yet.”

The Weather Service was surveying the storm damage Tuesday to determine the tornado’s exact size and intensity. It found “low end EF4 damage” on the 0-to-5 Enhanced Fujita scale for tornado intensity, meaning the storm’s winds reached at least 166 mph in Barnsdall. The agency wrote on X that the rating was preliminary as it continued to survey damage.

The EF4 twister was the state’s second in just over a week, after nearly eight years without a tornado this strong. An EF4 tornado also struck near Marietta on April 27, the first in Oklahoma this strong since May 9, 2016, according to the Weather Service.

As the tornado swept through the city around 9:30 p.m. Monday, the Weather Service declared a tornado emergency, its highest alert.

“TORNADO EMERGENCY for Barnsdall,” the Weather Service wrote as the “confirmed large and destructive” storm passed. “This is a PARTICULARLY DANGEROUS SITUATION. TAKE COVER NOW!”

The Oklahoma Highway Patrol reported 30 to 40 homes damaged in the Barnsdall area, according to an update provided by the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management at 1 a.m. Tuesday.

The department said that a natural-gas leak was reported in the city, while “numerous roads are closed due to debris in roadways.”

A nursing home was among the buildings hit in Barnsdall.

“Please pray for us,” Barnsdall Nursing Home, a 38-bed facility in the town’s southwest, wrote on social media, saying all residents were accounted for with no injuries or deaths. They had been temporarily relocated to a football field because of a gas leak that couldn’t be fixed and would be moved to other facilities.

The nursing home asked families to be patient “as it is chaos in town.”

In a Tuesday afternoon Facebook post, the Osage sheriff’s office said it was still searching for a man named Wayne Hogue who went missing from the Barnsdall area after the tornado.

Officials could not be reached for further updates Tuesday afternoon.

Trees and power lines were reportedly downed in other counties, and the Oklahoma Corporation Commission was reporting 45,227 outages statewide by 12:30 a.m., according to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management.

For Barnsdall, it was the second tornado to hit in just over a month. On April 1, an EF1 tornado on the 0-to-5 scale for intensity caused damage in the city.

After passing Barnsdall, the storm reached Bartlesville, a city of nearly 40,000 about 15 miles to the northeast, about 30 minutes later. The city was also placed under a tornado emergency, and the twister appeared to weaken as it was passing or just afterward.

“We did take a direct hit from a tornado here in Bartlesville,” Kary Cox, the director of operations at Washington County Emergency Management, said in a video update. He urged residents to stay home overnight, saying traffic was hampering emergency efforts. Social media video showed a Hampton Inn heavily damaged by the twister; in one instance, a hotel wall was speared by a two-by-four piece of wood.

More severe weather Tuesday through Thursday

The same storm system that affected the central states Monday is moving to the northeast into the Great Lakes, with a trailing cold front extending south toward Texas, along which storms will form as warm air oozes north to the east from the Gulf of Mexico.

Louisville, Indianapolis, Cincinnati and Columbus have a Level 3 out of 5 “enhanced” risk for severe weather, including the potential for a couple of significant tornadoes. A broader Level 2 risk surrounds that zone from Chicago to Bowling Green, Ky., where a couple of tornadoes are still possible.

Wednesday’s severe risk

On Wednesday, a new low-pressure system will take shape in Oklahoma and drift northeast toward St. Louis. Warmth and humidity will again surge north. Changing winds with height, meanwhile, will support the potential for tornadoes, particularly where a warm front stretches west to east from Springfield, Mo., to Nashville. That’s where a Level 3 risk has been outlined.

A Level 2 risk stretches from Dallas to Little Rock to Louisville, and clips Memphis and Chattanooga, Tenn.

On Thursday, the low-pressure system will swing the cold front toward both the Gulf and East Coasts. As that front sags southeastward, it will clash with warm, humid air. Scattered strong to severe thunderstorms are possible, with the main threat being damaging straight-line winds and hail.

An enormous stretch of real estate is covered by a Level 2 risk including Austin; Shreveport, La.; Jackson, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; Atlanta; Charleston, N.C.; Charlotte; Wilmington, N.C.; Richmond; Washington and Baltimore.

Why were Monday’s tornadoes less numerous and intense than feared?

Despite the destructive tornado in Barnsdall and the several tornadoes reported elsewhere, the event as a whole did not live up to dire forecasts made by government, broadcast and independent meteorologists alike.

While the ingredients were conducive to the formation of numerous strong, long-track tornadoes, it appears the Barnsdall storm was the only cell to take advantage of them. Otherwise, the ingredients didn’t combine as forecast — and meteorologists are working to understand why.

Several factors may have contributed to reduced tornado activity:

  • Low-level winds didn’t take on enough of an easterly component. That means that despite rotation within storms, many cells struggled to consolidate that rotation near the ground, reducing the tornado risk.
  • The storm structure did not evolve to support widespread tornado activity. “We expect storms to become supercells quickly after they form, and they should remain supercells through the event,” wrote the Weather Service in Norman before storms fired. “We do not expect them to form into a squall line or cluster.” But that’s exactly what happened — by 8 to 9 p.m., initial supercells had largely merged into a lengthy cluster, which did not promote rotation within storms. The Barnsdall tornado was able to occur because it was a lone, discrete supercell ahead of the line.
  • It appears that temperatures did not fall quickly enough at the mid-levels of the atmosphere. That slowed down the speed of thunderstorm updrafts, and was further exacerbated by a “lid” of warm air high aloft. That probably inhibited updraft strength and caused updrafts to be contaminated by rainfall.
  • A layer of dry air may have also reduced the storm intensity.

There is more that we still don’t know, and it will take a while for scientists to figure out what went “wrong” with the forecast. The Barnsdall tornado is proof of the atmosphere’s volatility. It’s fortunate that other storms weren’t able to take advantage of that full volatility.

Scott Dance contributed to this report.

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