The May 31st Severe Weather Event
Updated: Jul 3
On the morning of May 31st, 2022, the Storm Prediction Center included Tillman County, Oklahoma, in both a marginal and slight risk for the threat of severe weather during the evening hours. These threats included: 60mph to 80mph wind gusts and hail up to the size of golf balls. The tornado threat was low, but not 0.
I arrived at the Tillman County EMA office at 8 AM and immediately began forecasting the severe weather setup using satellite, mesoanalysis, and model data. After rummaging through data for over 2 hours, I started writing an email to my stakeholders and storm spotters detailing the risk for severe weather later in the evening hours. After writing out an email to my stakeholders and storm spotters I then went to social media
and pushed out an informative post on Facebook about the threat of severe weather. For the rest of the day, I helped citizens in Tillman County sign up for CodeRED which is Tillman Counties Mass Notification System while also forecasting and looking for any noticeable changes in the setup.
At 2:25 PM, the Storm Prediction Center issued the first Severe Thunderstorm Watch of the day for Tillman County, with moderate chances for severe winds higher than 75mph and hail above 2 inches. The Storm Prediction Center also mentioned how a tornado or two were possible. At 3:50 PM, satellite data started to show storms developing over Collingsworth County, Texas, in the Texas Panhandle, and a cumulus
field over Wilbarger, Hardeman, Wichita, and Cottle counties in Northwest Texas. Model data suggested that the Collingsworth County, TX, storm could intensify as it moved into SW Oklahoma later in the afternoon hours. At 7:45 PM, the once-developing thunderstorm had turned into a destructive thunderstorm, producing 2-inch hail and 65mph wind gusts with a history of tornadic activity near the town of Hollis, OK. Tillman County's first weather warning of the night came at 8:20 PM when the National Weather Service warned the town of Tipton
downstream. While the severe thunderstorm was still 14 miles out from Tipton and moving very slowly, the storm was still producing verified winds of 70mph and ping pong-size hail. Warning Tipton and rural parts of Western Tillman County allowed residents in the affected area to get to shelter more soon minimizing the risk of being hurt when the storm came into the area. The time is now 9 PM and a destructive severe thunderstorm is moving into NW Tillman County. A TCEMA Storm Spotter has reported 55mph wind gusts 4 miles west of Tipton on the Tillman/Jackson County lines. At 9:17 PM, NWS OUN states that they are issuing a Severe Thunderstorm Warning for Tipton, Manitou, Frederick, and Davidson for the threat of 80mph wind gusts. I made contact with the Tipton Police Chief and informed them to sound the sirens as 80mph wind gusts can be just as destructive as a tornado. Around 9:25 PM, the KFDR Doppler radar in Frederick started to show signs of 100mph wind gusts northwest of Tipton. I continue to keep storm spotters and public safety officials updated via radio on the threat as it moves closer to Tipton. A couplet then begins to form to the northeast of Tipton. The National Weather Service in Norman mentions that they will be issuing a Tornado Warning for the couplet and that it will include the Town
of Manitou. From here I inform a firefighter monitoring the storms in Manitou to sound the sirens. Moments later the activation tone is heard over the ICOM VHF radio. Reports of a tornado start to come into NWSChat while circulation shows strongly on radar 2.5 miles north and 3.5 miles west of Manitou. At this same time, violent winds are coming closer to the City of Frederick impacting the infrastructure and causing the town to lose power and for our agency to lose access to the sirens. The TCEMA office loses power at 9:39 PM. Almost immediately, the generator outside the office kicks in with a loud thud and restores power to the EOC. However, TCEMA is now without internet due to impacts on the infrastructure in the county. I am forced to use my phone as a mobile hotspot. The EOC door, which is a heavy-
duty door blows open at 9:56 PM as the City of Frederick is now being subjected to verified 70mph wind gusts and 58mph sustained winds. Wind-driven pea-size hail is now slamming into the EOC with a deafening sound. A report comes in from Manitou that residents are being subjected to 80mph wind gusts. Reports begin to come in of damage throughout Frederick. At 10:33 PM, I ask the National Weather Service their thoughts on a storm near Chillicothe that is moving northeast towards Tillman County as I noticed that it showed signs of being severe on the radar. NWS responds with just a hail threat. However, as the storm moves closer to Davidson, I begin to notice an increase in winds, potentially tornadic and inform a storm spotter in Davidson to keep an eye on it. The spotter reports that heavy rain is impacting his vehicle, but he believes that he sees a wall cloud at 10:55 PM.
The time is now 11:14 PM and the KFDR radar has detected an incredibly strong velocity couplet out of nowhere. This radar detection is very low in the storm as the KFDR radar is only 5 miles from the couplet. My heart almost rips out of my chest because firefighters have been fighting a grass fire in the area and now a potential tornado is going to be bearing down on them. Unknown to me, the radar updates that I have been giving those firefighters for the past 30 minutes are not being broadcasted over the radio as we have received damage to our equipment. I realize this and immediately inform dispatch to tell them to get out of the area. The tornado now has its sights set on the Town of Hollister, a town with a population of 52 and no tornado sirens. However, CodeRED has alerted residents in the town that a Tornado Warning has been issued and deputies race to
Hollister to warn the residents of the incoming danger, however, encounter heavily flooded roads. The tornado begins to turn more southward away from Hollister, sparing the small town from devastation. A report comes in that a storm chaser from Australia has been struck by a trailer. I then call the storm chaser to get more information about what has happened and learned that it was just a single axle trailer that struck the vehicle and that no residents were harmed. I sit back with a sigh of relief, however, I still fear that we have had a serious tornado move through Tillman County. Thunderstorms continue throughout the night and I finally deactivate the EOC at 2:56 AM on June 1st. I submitted a preliminary damage assessment to stakeholders and the National Weather Service and left the EOC at 4 AM.
I began my damage survey on June 1st at 10 AM at the intersection of Highway 5 and N2180 Road, 3 miles to the West of Frederick. After driving 472 feet down N2180 road I found 3 wooden power poles that had been snapped. I couldn't continue down the road as crews had blocked off the entire area in an attempt to fix the poles. From here I made my way back onto Highway 5 and began heading east into Frederick. I stopped at the intersection of
West Gladstone Ave and North 1st street where I found that 3 metal power poles had been bent. I was informed that multiple power poles had snapped at the intersection of Amethyst Ave and N 1st street. I drove to this location and counted 8 power poles that were laying across N 1st street. In total, Frederick had over 30 power poles destroyed. Throughout the day while
performing my damage assessments I pushed out information to residents in Frederick related to power restoration by collaborating with the Frederick City Manager. After I completed my damage assessment in Frederick, I moved on to surveying damage at the Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area, which had experienced the tornado
that came close to Hollister. I performed a 26-mile damage survey by tracking archived velocities as the storm went through Hackberry Flat Wildlife Management Area and thankfully only found damage to power poles. No injuries or deaths came from this tornado. The National Weather Service ended up ranking this tornado an EF-1.
Finally, I surveyed additional damage on June 2nd, in northern Tillman County. I surveyed 18.1 miles of land by using archived velocity data from severe weather on May 31st. I found multiple power poles destroyed northeast of Tipton, however, I found no damage to structures which was the best-case scenario.
On the night of May 31st, I worked a 20-hour shift while performing severe weather operations and only received 4 hours of sleep before I began my damage assessment the next day on June 1st. Over the next 2 days, I traveled over 100 miles in just Tillman County performing damage surveys to assist the National Weather Service in Norman with damage assessments. I want to thank all of my TCEMA Storm Spotters who helped me on May 31st and then those who worked alongside me so that I could get information out to residents in Frederick about the power outages. Thank you for taking the time to read this.
About the writer: Michael Thornton graduated from Rose State College majoring in Emergency Management. Currently, he is the Director for Tillman County Emergency Management and is an Oklahoma Emergency Management Association member.