TULSA, Okla. – The first batch of severe weather in this year’s tornado season devastated an Oklahoma mobile home park, as storms across the area damaged buildings, tore off roofs and left debris strewn across roads. One person was killed and several were injured.
Tens of thousands of Oklahoma residents were without power early Thursday as officials assessed the damage.
Tulsa County Sheriff’s Capt. Billy McKelvey said one person was killed in the mobile home park in the Tulsa suburb of Sand Springs, which he said could accommodate 40 to 50 trailers. It wasn’t yet clear whether it was a tornado or straight-line winds that hit the park.
“It could have been much worse,” he said.
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The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said it had reports of nine people taken to hospitals. McKelvey said he believed at least 15 were hurt.
Tornadoes were seen elsewhere in Oklahoma, as well as in Arkansas.
A small twister swept across parts of Moore, an Oklahoma City suburb where 24 people died in a top-of-the-scale EF5 tornado in 2013.
Other twisters formed along a line from southwest of Oklahoma City to east of Tulsa, and some touched down in the Ozark Mountains of northwestern Arkansas.
The tornado season usually ramps up for parts of the U.S. in March, but until Tuesday – when a waterspout formed over an Arkansas lake – the U.S. hadn’t had a tornado in more than a month.
Television video Wednesday evening showed roof damage in a Moore neighborhood – the Moore storm two years ago scraped lots to their foundations. A glass door at the Tulsa building that houses the National Weather Service office was smashed, and several cars in the parking lot lost their windows.
Don Ruffin said he and a neighbor were at a convenience store in far southeast Moore when he saw the tornado approaching.
“I don’t know how close it was to us, but it looked like it was coming toward us, and so we didn’t take any chances,” Ruffin said. “We got in our vehicles, ran home and got in our shelters.”
Ruffin said after the storm passed, there were some fences knocked down and “patio furniture thrown everywhere.”
The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management said statewide, nearly 80,000 power outages were reported. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol said an overturned tractor-trailer had snarled traffic on Interstate 35, a major north-south route.
“Those troopers are working their guts out there right now,” Lt. John Vincent said.
Weather patterns this month funneled cold air into much of the country, depriving the atmosphere of the warm, moist air necessary for forming bad storms for most of the month.
That all changed this week. Southerly winds pushed temperatures into the 70s and 80s across the Ozarks and Southern Plains, while weather fronts churned the air into Wednesday’s storms.
Meteorologist Jeff Hood in Little Rock said a weak waterspout tornado briefly touched down in Bull Shoals Lake in Marion County in northwest Arkansas on Tuesday night. He said it will likely be classified an EF0 – the weakest tornado with wind speeds of 65 to 85 mph. A waterspout forms over water. The tornado never made it onto land, and there were no reports of damage.
Before this week, only about two dozen twisters had been recorded this year during a period when about 120 are typical. The last time the U.S. had no twisters in March was nearly 50 years ago, according to figures from the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.