When it comes to severe weather, Oklahomans are somewhat moot to the fact that F5/EF5 tornadoes are extremely rare.

Throughout the history of recorded tornadoes, there have only been 67 F5 or EF5 tornadoes across the world. 59 of them have occurred in the United States including 8 in Oklahoma and 6 in Texas... but four of these unimaginable twisters were even bigger than the F5 status.

A little backstory...

In 1971, a Chicago-based severe weather meteorologist named Ted Fujita decided humanity needed to be a standard and universal way to classify and measure tornadoes across the world. He took the relative speed of sound, divided it by 12, and science adopted what we knew as the Fujita Scale.

Dr. Ted Fujita, Satellite Mesometeorology Research Program (Public Domain)
Dr. Ted Fujita, Satellite Mesometeorology Research Program (Public Domain)

It's crazy to think there was a definition for an F12 tornado at some point in time, but it was a thing.

Since adopting and implementing this scale in '71, it was used it to assign ratings to all US and world tornadoes dating all the way back to the 1880s when weather research was more word of mouth.

I say "was" because the scale has been replaced with the Enhanced Fujita Scale with designations for destruction instead of wind speeds. There are seven marks on the scale from EFU, when damage is undeterminable, all the way up to our familiar "total destruction" EF5.

While it's unimaginable, there have been a handful of tornadoes in history that qualified for an above F5 status.

May 3, 1999 - The Bridge Creek--Moore Tornado

If you're not familiar with the story, this was the granddaddy of all tornadoes that spawn a twister to the ground and carried a path of debris and destruction for 38 miles from Amber, Oklahoma all the way to Midwest City.

There was literally a mile-wide path of clean slabs where thousands of tract houses used to exist.

This tornado still holds the record for "highest wind speed" in the world. Originally measured by Doppler radar at 320 MPH - 2 MPH over the F6 threshold... but after science determined the numbers had to be off with the digital estimation, the wind was "officially" listed at 302 MPH and the initial F5 rating stuck.

The scientific shenanigans...

When the May 3, 1999 tornado happened, science was already in the process of developing a new tornado scale - the Enhanced Fujita Scale - since those spectacular wind speeds above F5 were unheard of at the time, and since actual destruction was what they wanted to use as a standard of measure.

Since EF5 means "total destruction" there's no need for an EF6, even if the winds surpass the 319 MPH speed.

Have there ever been "official" F6 tornadoes?

Yep, two.

On May 11, 1970, a complex storm system swept through Lubbock, Texas after dark. This storm spawned the first F6 tornado in recorded history.

It touched down on the outskirts of the city, grew to 1.5 miles wide, and ran straight through downtown Lubbock. It destroyed 25% of the city killing 26 and injuring 500+.

There is a second "official" F6 on record that happened during a 1974 outbreak across the Midwest. The twister that went through Xenia, Ohio captured that elusive rating.

The damage was so intense, it completely swept entire neighborhoods of brick homes down to the ground and piled the debris into windrows along the northern edge of the scar path.

Dr. Ted Fujita personally studied the data from both of these F6 tornadoes in the early 70s, but ultimately determined that the F6 rating couldn't apply to either of them.

The rub.

Beyond the wind speeds that characterized the original Fujita Scale, destruction has always played a large part in the analysis.

The F5 (and subsequent EF5) rating is clearly defined as "total destruction." Clean slabs, uprooted trees, etc...

The F6 rating was loosely defined as "unimaginable destruction"... and since a person literally cannot imagine "unimaginable" destruction, both F6 tornadoes in history were downgraded to F5's.

Coming full circle.

What does science have to hide about an F6 rating? Well, nothing. When Dr. Ted Fujita first developed the F-scale, it was widely believed that tornadoes produced winds in excess of 500 MPH.

You've seen the old videos of whole houses in the path of a tornado exploding into sticks and debris... the common belief was that tornadoes could literally be producing super-sonic forces beyond what they could measure.

As the technology improved, especially with the development of Doppler radar, we were eventually able to accurately measure wind speeds in and around a tornado. As it turned out, their estimated wind speeds were way off. Still the highest on earth, but not in the 500 MPH range.

Add in that there is no way to measure "unimaginable" destruction, the EF5 remains logically the highest category a tornado can measure... for now.

If there ever comes a time when the F6 designation is called for, I don't want anything to do with it.

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