MOORE, Okla. – Two days that will live in Oklahoma infamy; May 3, 1999 and May 20, 2013.
Massive EF-5 tornadoes tore through central Oklahoma on both days.
On May 3, 1999, we had more warning time and it occurred later in the day after school was out.
We know that wasn’t the case last week.
Seven students died in Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore.
“So far, I would say they’re comparable,” Don Burgess said, an OU Research Meteorologist at the National Weather Center in Norman. “(There’s) nothing to suggest yet that May 20 is more severe than May 3.”
But there are differences.
According to the National Weather Service, the May 3, 1999 tornado tore up 38 miles, compared to 17 miles last week.
Although the May 20, 2013 tornado was slightly wider; 1.3 miles in width.
May 3, 1999 was a mile wide twister on the ground more than twice as long as May 20, nearly an hour and a half, compared to 40 minutes last week.
That resulted in 12 more fatalities on May 3, 1999; 36 people died back then, 24 people died last week.
Burgess said he finds them equally horrific.
“The two that we’ve had in Moore, May 3 and May 20, are all so terrible and if not equal, almost equal,” he said.
Both tornadoes followed eerily similar paths and crisscrossed in southwest Oklahoma City.
That’s near where Sharlene Lambring’s son lives.
She remembers May 3, 1999 very well.
“I was so scared,” Lambring said. “I never said prayers so hard in my life that day.”
Her son survived May 20, 2013 in his home’s storm shelter, the answer to his mother’s prayers.
Which tornado was worse?
Sharlene said it’s all relative.
“It depends on which side of the coin you’re on,” she said. “If you’ve got family and friends in one, it’s probably worse to you than if you (didn’t have) family and friends in the other one.”
Burgess said the increased number of storm shelters made a big difference this time around, in terms of fatalities and injuries.
When asked what tornado was Oklahoma’s worst, he said April 9, 1947 in Woodward.
That day 116 people were killed by a tornado in a time when there was virtually no warning system at all.