Comparing and contrasting Joplin, Missouri and Moore, Oklahoma maxi-tornadoes

We had a viewer e-mail us with an interesting weather question. He wanted to us to compare and contrast the May 3, 1999 Moore, Oklahoma F-5 tornado to the May 22, 2011 Joplin, Missouri EF-5 tornado.

I've covered both storms. Both were simply beasts. They produced incredible damage, and high fatality counts.

There are a lot of pieces and parts to both storms. To keep things simple, I'm going to break this down into two sections: the actual tornadoes and the aftermath.


Both storms produced winds in excess of 200 mph, and were at times a mile wide. Portable Doppler radar measured winds in excess of 300 mph with the Bridge Creek/Moore storm. No measurements were made of the Joplin tornado.

The Moore storm developed near Lawton, and produced tornadoes off and on for over two hours before moving into Moore. The storm was shown live on television from the first tornado touchdown northeast of Lawton. Even with the lengthy warnings and the live pictures, there were still 36 fatalities and 583 injuries. The fatality count was very high because the storm was simply so intense that even if you were taking tornado precautions, survival couldn't be guaranteed. 

The parent supercell to the Joplin tornado developed around 20 miles west of Joplin, with the first touchdown just barely inside the Joplin city limits. The storm rapidly intensified as a result of cell merger—the storm merged with a small, developing supercell.

The end result was that the tornado became an EF-4 tornado within 3 miles of initial touchdown and an EF-5 within 4 miles

Compared to Moore, that's fast. Yes there was a Tornado Warning issued well in advance and the sirens sounded as they should. But, the urgent build up that the Moore storm had simply didn't exist with Joplin. The first images to be shown of this tornado were from a local television station towercam. By that time, the tornado was in the city limits and was already over a half-mile wide.

It also appears that the storm accelerated forward movement over Joplin. The National Weather Service estimated storm movement at 20 mph as the storm approached Joplin. As the storm exited Joplin, movement was around 40 mph. As with the Moore storm, the storm was simply so strong that even the sturdiest shelter couldn't guarantee survival. The latest count from Joplin is over 130 fatalities and over 900 injuries.


Both cities were devastated by the tornadoes. There are a variety of numbers out there, but both storms damaged approximately 8,000 structures.

This is where Joplin being more rural becomes a problem. Whereas Moore had resources of the larger Oklahoma City metro area, Joplin is the largest city in the area. The next largest cities are Tulsa and Springfield, both at least an hour away. The surrounding cities of Carthage, Miami, Neosho and Pittsburg are less than a half hour away from Joplin, but all have populations less than 20,000.

In Joplin, one of the major hospitals got knocked out. That's one out of two, or 50%.

Now, remove one hospital from the Oklahoma City/Moore area. It's a bad situation, but there are still plenty of back-ups within a reasonable distance.

In Joplin, two grocery stores are gone out of seven or eight--so that's a quarter of the grocery stores that are out of commission. 

The only public high school in Joplin was destroyed. And the Joplin storm moved through a densely populated area. Not downtown and not the suburbs, but mid-town. These were older homes on smaller lots allowing for more homes per street.

At least four large apartment complexes were damaged or destroyed in Joplin. So, in the short term there's a major housing issue.

The estimates are that 30% of Joplin was damaged or destroyed by this storm.

An estimated 4,000 jobs will be impacted at least in the short term. Again, that's in a town of 50,000. In the short-term, the lack of housing and the tight job market will make things uncomfortable.

Now over a decade later, Moore has rebuilt. With new homes and new businesses, Moore is stronger and better. And like Moore, Joplin is a determined town. The hospital, grocery stores, businesses and homes are going to rebuild. School will start as scheduled. This process will at times test patience and faith.

But Joplin like Moore will rise to the challenge.

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