The National Weather Service in Tulsa issued 103 tornado warnings for the area from April 30 through May, the most issued by any forecast office in the country, meteorologists said.
The number of confirmed tornadoes for the area so far this season stands at 52, but — with survey teams still assessing damage — that number is likely to climb by at least 10, which would be the second-most tornadoes in one year for eastern Oklahoma and northwest Arkansas since records started being kept in 1950.
Tulsa County has also broken the record for most tornadoes in one season with eight. The previous record was six in 1960.
The figures are for the forecast office in Tulsa, which issues warnings for 25 counties in eastern Oklahoma and seven in northwest Arkansas.
“We’ve had the numbers, but we’ve been fortunate ... we haven’t had any EF-3s or greater,” said Steve Piltz, meteorologist in charge of the Tulsa office.
Forty of the tornadoes have occurred since May 18.
“We had no idea,” Piltz said of seeing the record numbers. “We just looked at it and said ‘We’ve been busy.’ It does show you’ve been pretty heavily engaged in the weather in the last month or so.
“We’ve probably managed to take two severe weather seasons (and) compacted (them) into 30 days.”
In Tulsa County alone, 15 tornado warnings have been issued so far this year, according to John Boyer, staff meteorologist for the Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch, a BH Media newspaper, along with the Tulsa World. That amounts to more warnings than the previous four years combined — 2018 (two), 2017 (one), 2016 (five), and 2015 (six), according to Boyer, a former meteorologist with KOKI, channel 23, in Tulsa.
The number of warnings for Tulsa County is the most for at least the past 15 years, Boyer said.
In 2005 and 2009, there were zero.
The total number of tornado warnings for the Tulsa area so far this year is 104, but only one was issued before April 30, Piltz said.
The number is the most of any forecast office in the United States this year as of Thursday, Boyer said.
The second- and third-highest number of tornado warnings so far this year has been 98 issued by the Norman/Oklahoma City forecast office and 95 issued by the Springfield, Missouri, office.
In total, nearly 500 tornado warnings have been issued for Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri and Arkansas so far this year, according to data provided by Piltz.
The record number of tornado warnings for the Tulsa forecast area is 118, set in 2011.
The record number of tornadoes for the area is 77, also set in 2011. The second-highest number is 53, set in 1999.
“We’re typically somewhere in the low 20s” for tornadoes, Piltz said.
“If we end up confirming 60 (or more) tornadoes, which we’re looking like, we’re well on our way to getting to the No. 2 year.”
Forecasters at the office have been working for hours on end some days, canceling vacations and normal time off in order to keep up, he said.
In addition, employees who would normally be in the office monitoring conditions and issuing forecasts and warnings, have been with emergency operations centers in Tulsa and McAlester, giving briefings about the latest forecasts to other state and local officials.
Asked if other officials have sought good news from weather service forecasters amid round after round of severe weather and flooding, Piltz said that both state and local officials and meteorologists have been using humor as a way to cope.
“At some point you just get into that mode because you’ve been stressed for so long,” he said.