Moore, Oklahoma's EF-5 tornado 10 years ago: 'A day that will always live in the hearts of Oklahomans'

For FOX Weather Meteorologist Jordan Overton, his first ever professional storm chase ended up being an EF-5 monster tornado that left a mile-wide path of devastation across Moore, Oklahoma 10 years ago Saturday.

MOORE, Okla. – Ten years ago, a monster tornado tore through the heart of Oklahoma, leaving miles of destruction and 24 lives lost.

"It’s a day that will always live in the hearts of all Oklahomans," FOX Weather meteorologist and senior weather producer Jordan Overton said.

Overton, an Oklahoma native, was just days away from graduating from high school and starting his career as a professional storm chaser for a Tulsa TV station when the forecast for the afternoon turned quite ominous.

"I was chasing with my dad, and that morning it was clear as day outside," Overton remembered. "We were driving down I-44 from Tulsa to Oklahoma City to our target area, and my dad asked me: ‘Jordan, it's sunny; there's not going to be tornadoes?’ I told him, ‘Dad, that's bad; it's the opposite of what you want.’"

Sunny skies meant warming temperatures to fuel storm development. They would reach their intended start point of Norman about 1 p.m. – and by then, a Tornado Watch was in effect.

From small funnel to mile-wide wedge tornado

Several supercell thunderstorms formed in central Oklahoma along a dryline – where bone-dry air from the Desert Southwest collides with warm, humid air flowing off the Gulf of Mexico, fueling convection.

"There were three supercells that developed (in our area) that afternoon," Overton said. "We were sandwiched between the bottom two. We knew right away that we needed to head north as the middle supercell was making a direct path to Moore."

At 2:56 p.m., a tornado touched down on the west side of Newcastle and became violent within minutes, causing EF-4 level damage after about a half-mile on the ground.


"For me, the most scary part was seeing it when it first developed, as a small funnel, before growing into a large wedge tornado," Overton said.

The tornado would indeed grow into a monstrous wedge tornado that eventually stretched more than a mile across as it headed into highly populated suburbs of Oklahoma City. The tornado first destroyed buildings and killed horses at a family farm on its way into Moore, then tossed two 10-ton storage tanks about a half mile away.


The twister next took aim at Briarwood Elementary School, causing heavy damage during school hours, but miraculously, everyone survived. Storm survey teams would later find damage consistent with the maximum EF-5 rating.

‘Cars were tossed around like footballs'

The storm turned deadly as it destroyed homes on its journey farther into Moore and took aim toward Plaza Towers Elementary School. Here, sadly, seven students died when the tornado ripped apart the school and knocked over a wall.  

Another 12 people died as their homes were destroyed near the school. Moore Medical Center took a near direct hit and also sustained heavy damage.

A convenience store was among the next buildings to get hit, killing three inside. 

Two more would die in their homes as the tornado moved east of I-35. Finally, at 3:35 p.m., the tornado finally dissipated 40 minutes and 14 miles after beginning its wrath of terror.


Overall, over 300 homes experienced EF-4/EF-5 damage along the tornado path, according to the National Weather Service.

"Obviously being on the scene already, we were some of the first to arrive to the devastation, and I had no words," Overton said. "Cars were tossed around like footballs. Homes were just… gone -- like you couldn't even tell where they used to stand. I remember as we were driving through the devastation that I saw this mattress and I was sitting here like, someone could have been sleeping on that literally the night before. And here it is in the middle of the road."

Overton said winds were estimated to be well over 200 mph, though some studies have indicated winds could have been as high as 300 mph. It remains the last tornado to receive an EF-5 rating.


"Even 10 years later, I still get the same pit in my stomach that I had that afternoon sitting on I-35, just in shock that this massive tornado was ripping apart everything in its path, and all you could do is just sit there and watch," Overton said. "You just knew this was going to be bad. You get this helpless feeling."

He adds the tornado still sticks with him today.

"I honestly still have little ways to describe what I saw, and I honestly don't think I'll ever be able to fully get over it," he said. "I was still in high school at the time. I saw this tornado on a Monday and I graduated that Thursday. This was the moment that just fueled my passion to study and understand tornadoes and severe weather."