Updated Apr 20, 2023 - Science

Tornado kills at least 3 in Oklahoma as storms continue in Central U.S.

A supercell west of Norman, Oklahoma.

A supercell shown west of Norman, Oklahoma on Wednesday, April 19. Photo: National Weather Service Norman/Twitter

A severe storm system unleashed strong winds and hail over the Central U.S. and spawned several tornadoes from Wednesday night into Thursday morning — including one in Oklahoma that authorities said killed at least three people.

The big picture: The National Weather Service issued severe thunderstorm warnings across the region on Wednesday night, along with tornado watches and warnings for six states: Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Iowa, Texas and Oklahoma. More storms could affect a broad region on Thursday.

Of note: McClain County Emergency Management confirmed a "large and extremely dangerous tornado" over Cole, Oklahoma, was moving east at 30 mph in the evening.

  • The McClain County Sheriff's office said Thursday at least three people died when the tornado struck. It also damaged buildings in the town.
  • The National Weather Service also confirmed a "dangerous tornado" in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where images showed trees down and damage to Oklahoma Baptist University.
  • The NWS storm damage survey team has found damage consistent with an EF-3 tornado near Cole, though the final rating has not yet been determined.

By the numbers: Nearly 17,000 customers were without power Thursday morning in Oklahoma, according to utility tracker poweroutage.us.

Context: The storms were sparked when a surge of cold, dry air moving in from the west, colliding with a warm, humid air mass surging northward from the Gulf of Mexico.

  • Unstable air built up during the day on Wednesday, and an air mass boundary plus energy in the form of strong jet stream winds triggered the storms.
  • What's next: More severe weather is forecast on Thursday from Texas northward into Illinois.
  • Cities at greatest risk of seeing strong to severe storms with damaging winds, large hail and a few tornadoes include Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth, Texas.
  • Chicago, Little Rock, Milwaukee, Memphis and Corpus Christi, Texas could also see rough weather move through.

Yes, but: The National Weather Service does not expect a widespread tornado outbreak on Thursday.

Editor's note: This story was updated with additional context and new developments.

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