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F5
Tornado

Tornado A9: The May 3, 1999 Bridge Creek-Newcastle-
Oklahoma City-Moore F5 Tornado

Photo of the Tornado A9 on May 3, 1999 near Bridge Creek, OK
This photo of Tornado A9 was taken near the Bridge Creek, OK area on May 3, 1999 by NWS Norman general forecaster Erin Maxwell.

The Parent Supercell Thunderstorm - Storm A

Storm Relative Radar Loop for a May 3, 1999 Parent Supercell Thunderstorm in Oklahoma (Storm A)Storm A produced 14 tornadoes over a period of about 3.5 hours and was eventually responsible for the F5 tornado (A9) that struck Bridge Creek, Oklahoma City, and Moore. The storm began around 3:30 PM CDT (2:30 PM CST) in Tillman County, OK. It moved to the northeast and once it reached parts of Comanche County it produced its first tornado at 4:51 PM CDT, 7 miles east-northeast of Medicine Park, Oklahoma (A1). As the storm crossed from Comanche County into Caddo County, it produced four other tornadoes, one of which was rated an F3 (A3). The F3 tornado struck a rural area just east of Apache. The sixth tornado that the storm produced crossed from Caddo County into Grady County and was rated a strong F3 tornado (A6). This tornado ended shortly after striking the northwest sides of Chickasha.

The storm gained intensity and became better organized as it moved into Grady County. As it moved into the Amber area in Central Grady County, it produced a tornado that would become the most famous tornado of the entire outbreak, and one of the most famous tornadoes in U.S. history (A9). The track of the tornado is detailed below, but in general it tracked from near Amber, to the far northern sections of Newcastle, through the southern sections of Oklahoma City, to the northern sections of Moore, throug OKC again, to Del City, and on into Midwest City. It was rated an F5 on the Fujita Scale, the highest rating that a tornado can achieve. Two satellite tornadoes rotated around this main tornado, which was a large, wedge-shaped tornado along portions of its track. The storm produced three more tornadoes in eastern Oklahoma County, and the last tornado produced by Storm A ended at 8:25 PM CDT.

Storm A produced 5 strong or violent tornadoes (rated F2 or higher) during its lifespan. The combined damage path length of all 14 tornadoes that the storm produced is over 70 miles.

Tornado A9

The 9th tornado, A9, was a violent and long-tracked tornado, and eventually produced F5 damage in Bridge Creek, Oklahoma City, and Moore.

Early Stages

This tornado developed in Grady County about two miles south-southwest of Amber, and quickly intensified as it crossed OK State Highway 92. F4 damage was first discovered about 4 miles east-northeast of Amber, and extended for 6½ miles as the tornado continued to move northeast.

Bridge Creek

Two areas of F5 damage were observed in the Bridge Creek area. The first was in the Willow Lake Addition, a rural subdivision of mobile homes and some concrete slab homes in Bridge Creek, in far eastern Grady County. Two homes were completely swept from their concrete slabs, and about one dozen automobiles were carried about ¼ mile. All mobile homes in this area in the direct path of the tornado were obliterated, resulting in a high concentration of fatalities. Asphalt pavement about 1 inch thick was also peeled from a section of rural road EW125. The second area of F5 damage was observed about 1 mile west of the Grady/McClain County line and consisted of a cleanly swept slab home with foundation anchor bolts and another vehicle lofted ¼ mile. The maximum width of damage in Bridge Creek was estimated to be 1 mile.

Approximately 200 mobile homes/houses were destroyed, and hundreds of other structures were damaged. The Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Bridge Creek was also destroyed. Twelve people died in Bridge Creek, nine in mobile homes. All fatalities and the majority of injuries were concentrated in the Willow Lake Addition, Southern Hills Addition, and Bridge Creek Estates, which consisted mostly of mobile homes. Compared to sections of Oklahoma and Cleveland Counties, which were also in the path of this tornado, eastern Grady County, including the Bridge Creek area, was rural and sparsely populated.

Newcastle

The tornado maintained a nearly straight path to the northeast, paralleling Interstate 44 as it entered McClain County. An exception was when it made a slight jog to the right and moved directly over the 16th Street overpass in Newcastle, where a woman was killed when she was blown out from under the overpass. The tornado continued into northern sections of rural Newcastle and crossed the interstate again just north of the US 62 Newcastle interchange.

While this tornado was moving through the northern portion of Newcastle, a weak satellite tornado (A10), touched down in a field in rural north Newcastle. Two areas of F4 damage were observed in McClain County, associated with tornado A9. The first area overlapped the Grady/McClain County line and extended to about 3 miles northwest of Newcastle, ending just west of the 16th St. overpass on Interstate 44, while the other area was observed 2 miles northwest of Newcastle. In McClain County, 38 homes and 2 businesses were destroyed, and 40 homes were damaged.

South Oklahoma City, west of Moore

Damage then diminished to F2 intensity as the tornado crossed the Canadian River into northern Cleveland County. The tornado entered Cleveland County between Portland and May Avenues, and between SW 164th and SW 179th in south Oklahoma City. Damage was rated F2 in this area with a path width averaging ½ mile.

The first major housing development to be struck in Cleveland County was Country Place Estates, located just west of Pennsylvania Ave., where about 50 homes were damaged. One dozen of these homes received F4 damage. One slab home was cleanly swept from its foundation, and several vehicles were picked up from the subdivision and tossed across Pennsylvania Ave., a distance of approximately ¼ mile. One vehicle was found under a bridge just east of the intersection of Pennsylvania and SW 134th. This particular area of damage has been rated high F4/low F5. Oklahoma City Police indicated that part of an airplane wing, believed to have originated from Chickasha Municipal Airport in Grady County, landed in this area.

The tornado then tracked through Eastlake Estates, a densely populated housing development, located north of SW 134th and between Pennsylvania and Western, where 3 fatalities occurred. Entire rows of homes were flattened to piles of rubble. Four adjacent homes on one street were nearly cleaned off their foundations leaving only concrete slabs, which earned an F5 rating. Three other homes in this housing division also received F5 damage, with the remaining destruction rated high F4. Three people also died in the 600-unit Emerald Springs Apartments on Western Ave., across the street from Eastlake Estates. One 2-story apartment building on the north end of the apartment complex was virtually flattened, and received an F5 rating.

Westmoore High School, just north of Eastlake Estates, was also heavily damaged. Although a well-attended awards ceremony was being held at the school during the tornado, no one was injured, however dozens of vehicles in the school parking lot were either damaged or destroyed. F4 damage continued northeast into another residential area east of Western Ave. and south of 119th St.

Moore

The tornado then entered the western city limits of Moore (Cleveland County) along Santa Fe and near NW 12th, and produced damage ½ to ¾ mile wide. Maximum damage, rated high F4/low F5, extended northeast to near Janeway with several large groups of homes flattened. Four people died in this residential area. F4 damage continued to South Shields, just north of the junction with Interstate 35. A woman was also killed when she was blown out from under the Shields overpass of Interstate 35.

The tornado appeared to weaken just slightly after crossing Interstate 35, however it remained a formidable storm with widespread high F3/low F4 damage observed in Highland Park, a residential area south of the First Baptist Church on 27th St. inMoore. Escaping with relatively minor damage, and being located near the halfway point of the tornado path, the First Baptist Church in Moore eventually served as the primary coordination center for most tornado relief efforts.

South Oklahoma City, northeast of Moore

The tornado then continued northeast and entered the southern portion of a sparsely populated industrial district. F4 damage continued through this area to near SE 89th St., the Cleveland/Oklahoma County border. Moving into Oklahoma County, the tornado curved northward, through the remaining industrial district north of Interstate 240, where 2 businesses were destroyed. This damage was rated F4. Two people were also killed at a trucking company near the intersection of S. Bryant Ave. and Interstate 240.

A freight car, with an approximate weight of 18 tons, was picked up intermittently and blown ¾ mile across an open field. The body of the freight car was deposited southeast of the intersection of S. Sunnylane Rd. and SE 59th. Gouge marks were observed in the field every 50 to 100 yards, suggesting the freight car had been airborne for at least a short distance. While tornado A9 was moving through southeast Oklahoma City, another tornado A11) touched down briefly near the intersection of SE 80th and Sooner Rd. (Oklahoma County). Tornado A9 then entered residential neighborhoods between SE 59th and SE 44th, where a woman was killed in her house.

Del City and Tinker AFB

Crossing SE 44th into Del City (Oklahoma County), the tornado moved through the highly populated Del Aire housing addition killing 6 people and damaging or destroying hundreds of homes, many with F3/F4 damage. The tornado then crossed Sooner Rd., where it damaged an entry gate and several costly structures at Tinker Air Force Base.

Midwest City and the Storm's Demise

Tornado A9 then crossed 29th St. into Midwest City (Oklahoma County), destroying 1 building in the Boeing Complex and damaging 2 others. Widespread F3/F4 damage continued as the tornado moved across Interstate 40, affecting a large business district. Approximately 800 vehicles were damaged at Hudiburg Auto Group, located just south of Interstate 40. Hundreds of the vehicles were moved from their original location, and dozens of vehicles were picked up and tossed northward across Interstate 40 into several motels, a distance of approximately 0.2 miles. Numerous motels and other businesses including Hampton Inn, Comfort Inn, Inn Suites, Clarion Inn, Cracker Barrel, and portions of Rose State College, were destroyed. Some of the damage through this area was rated high F4, however low F5 was considered.

The tornado then continued into another residential area between SE 15th and Reno Ave., where 3 fatalities occurred. High F4 damage was inflicted to 4 homes in this area. Two of these homes were located between SE 12th and SE 11th, near Buena Vista, and the other 2 homes were located on Will Rogers Rd., just south of SE 15th. Damage then diminished rapidly to F0/F1 as the tornado crossed Reno Ave. The tornado dissipated 3 blocks north of Reno Ave., between Sooner Rd. and Air Depot Blvd.

Summary

The Oklahoma State Department of Health in Oklahoma City recorded 36 direct fatalities. In addition, 5 people died of illness or accident during or shortly after the tornado, and were not considered in the direct fatality total. The number of injuries was estimated at 583, based on numbers provided from the Oklahoma Department of Health, which were then adjusted to account for people assumed to be unaccounted for. Injuries which resulted from removing debris, conducting search and rescue efforts, and taking shelter from the tornado, were not considered in the injury total. An estimated 1,800 homes were destroyed, and 2,500 homes were damaged, resulting in approximately $1 billion in damage.



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