USATODAY.com - Oklahoma leads nation in tornado damage
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The cost of tornado damage in Oklahoma since 1996 has been higher than any other state, according to a newspaper analysis.
Using federal data, The Oklahoman found that from 1996 through February 2005, the state — located in the heart of what is commonly known as Tornado Alley — has suffered more than $1.6 billion in damages from tornadoes. That's about $1 billion more than the state in second place on that list, Arkansas.
Oklahoma ranks eighth nationally during the same time span in overall weather damage — which includes damage from snow, hail, high winds, floods and other storms — at about $3.1 billion.
The research also indicates that about 900 people have been injured by tornados during that time span.
The newspaper analyzed thousands of storm events, which have been compiled by the National Climatic Data Center.
"Unfortunately, we live in a state that's no stranger to disasters," said Albert Ashwood, the director of the state Emergency Management Department. "We seem to have a disaster every year."
Oklahoma's location puts it at risk for tornadoes. The state is between the Rocky Mountains and the Gulf of Mexico, which means that cold, dry air from Canada and warm, moist air from the gulf frequently meet in the atmosphere above Oklahoma.
The top ranking in the tornado-damage category is due in good part to the fierce storms of May 3, 1999, during which 70 twisters touched down in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas. Storms that day caused about $1.1 billion in damages in Oklahoma.
"That was the granddaddy of them all," said Joe Schaefer, director of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman.
Twenty-seven tornadoes were reported in Oklahoma in 2005. National Weather Service meteorologist Kenneth James in Norman said it's impossible to predict if that number will be exceeded this year.
"If the right combination of variables comes together on any of those days, we can have a significant outbreak," James said. "We just may not have a lot of them."