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Statement on the rating of the May 31, 2103 El Reno, OK tornado

By DAN ROBINSON
Storm Chaser/Photographer
25 Years of Storm Chasing
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DETAILED CHASE LOG: El Reno, tornado chase log with photos, videos and data

"There's no question this was an EF-5 tornado" - Dr. Howie Bluestein

"I don't care what the National Weather Service says, El Reno was an EF-5" - Dr. Chuck Doswell

These quotes, from two of the most experienced and respected tornado scientists in the world today, should settle the issue by themselves regarding the 2013 El Reno, Oklahoma tornado rating. This 2.6-mile-wide tornado contained winds of EF-5 intensity as measured by both DOW and University of Oklahoma RaXPol mobile radars. The official EF-3 rating of the tornado by the National Weather Service is a result of an internal bureaucratic constraint to exclude the radar data and limit the rating criteria to observed damage only.

Since the scientific community is in strong agreement that mobile radar measurements should be included in tornado ratings (when available), it is highly likely that the El Reno tornado's EF-5 rating will be restored when the NWS policy is ultimately revised to reflect the scientific consensus. Therefore, I will consider this tornado an EF-5 with regards to its intensity, and will continue to refer to it as such on this web site. In the event that the scientific consensus on mobile radar ratings of tornadoes changes, I will revise my web pages accordingly.

The original intent of the F and EF scales was to estimate tornado intensity by surveying the damage one produces. Tornadoes in rural areas are typically under-rated by a damage-only application of the EF scale, as a rural tornado usually does not strike the necessary objects needed to satisfy damage rating requirements. This problem is offset when a tornado is sampled by mobile radar, in which case the damage survey is not needed to determine the tornado's true intensity. Currently, the NWS must exclude mobile radar observations as rating criteria, but only due to outdated policy. When this policy is ultimately revised, the official ratings of tornadoes sampled by mobile radar (including the May 31 El Reno tornado) will be updated.

For further reading on this issue:

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The following comments were posted before this site switched to a new comment system on August 27, 2016:

Veracity of data is science. Verifiable data trumps estimations based on observation every time. I think some of this is politics, and I will leave it at that. Hard to believe it has been a year...came back and re-read your blogs to reinforce the lessons from that day. Thanks Dan for the excellent work you did on following up to the events of that day.
- Posted by Doug from IN

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