OKLAHOMA CITY — The deadly tornado that plowed through an area near Oklahoma City last week was even larger and more powerful than previously estimated — a record 2.6 miles wide with winds that reached nearly 300 mph, just shy of the strongest winds ever measured.
The National Weather Service said Tuesday that the twister that hit El Reno was a top-of-the-scale EF5 twister — the second to strike the area in less than two weeks.
Friday's tornado was initially rated as an EF3. But the agency upgraded that ranking after surveying damage and concluding that the storm had winds of 295 mph. Nineteen people died in the storm and subsequent flooding, including three storm chasers.
The Oklahoma City area also saw an EF5 tornado on May 20. That one raked Moore, a suburb 25 miles southeast of El Reno, and killed 24 people. Moore was hit in 1999 by another EF5, which had the strongest winds ever measured on Earth: 302 mph.
The massive tornado that formed Friday avoided highly populated metro areas, a fact that almost certainly saved lives.
Winds were at their most powerful in areas devoid of structures, said Rick Smith, chief warning coordination meteorologist for the weather service's office in Norman.
"Any house would have been completely swept clean on the foundation," Smith said.