“You dodged a bullet,” Hooke said. “You lay that path over Oklahoma City, and you have devastation of biblical proportions.
In El Reno, the city of 18,000 suffered significant damage, including to its vocational-technical center and a cattle stockyard that was reduced to a pile of twisted metal. But Mayor Matt White said it could have been worse had the twister passed to the north.
“If it was two more miles this way, it would have wiped out all of downtown, almost every one of our subdivisions and almost all of our businesses,” White said. “It would have taken out everything.”
The EF5 storm that hit Moore decimated neighborhoods.
“It’s very scary ... I don’t think a normal person can fathom just how scary,” White said. “I don’t think they realize how lucky El Reno was.”
The storm’s 2.6-mile-wide path surpassed a record set in 2004 in Hallam, Neb. And it would have made the storm hard to recognize up close, Smith said.
“A 2.5 mile wide tornado would not look like a tornado to a lot of people,” Smith said, explaining that the twister would not have a tapered funnel and would instead resemble a dark cloud hanging below the horizon.
Greg Carbin, a meteorologist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, said May in Oklahoma is a time of weather transition, offering the perfect fuel for violent thunderstorms that can produce tornadoes a combination of warm, moist air combined with cooler jet stream energy that causes massive instability in the atmosphere.
“In these past two events, we’ve had a lot of unstable air sitting around, a lot of moisture and warm air,” Carbin said. “That provides the fuel for thunderstorm development.”