With the new movie “Twisters” being shot in downtown Oklahoma City, and some scenes in our building right outside the Merlin entrance, tornadoes are an appropriate blog topic in the middle of Oklahoma’s typical tornado season. On April 19, 2023, a series of deadly tornadoes swept through Oklahoma, causing significant damage and loss of life. But one particular aspect of these storms that received the attention of meteorologists and weather enthusiasts was the potential involvement of the Fujiwhara effect.
The Fujiwhara effect is a phenomenon where two nearby cyclonic storms rotate around a common center of circulation. This effect can cause the storms to merge, resulting in a more significant and potentially more dangerous storm. This phenomenon was first observed by Sakuhei Fujiwhara, a Japanese meteorologist, in the early 20th century. When the two storms are close enough, their circulation patterns can interact, causing them to rotate around a shared point, almost like a dance.
The outcome of this interaction can vary depending on the strength and proximity of the two storms. Sometimes the storms will merge, resulting in a larger and more powerful storm. In other cases, they will repel each other, causing them to move apart and potentially weaken. Still, it̵7;s a rare and fascinating phenomenon that can have a significant impact on weather patterns and storm behavior. An example of this occurred in September 2017 when Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Jose underwent the Fujiwhara effect in the Atlantic. The two storms began to interact, causing Hurricane Jose to weaken while Hurricane Irma continued on its destructive path, ultimately impacting Florida. Overall, Hurricane Irma caused over $77 billion in damage in the affected regions (about $50 billion attributable to damage in Florida), making it one of the costliest hurricanes on record.
In recent years, the Fujiwhara effect has been the focus of research and concern in areas prone to storms, such as Oklahoma. The Oklahoma University College Campus in Norman, Oklahoma has been particularly affected by this phenomenon, with several severe storms causing significant tornado damage to the campus and surrounding areas. In the case of the April 19, 2023 tornado outbreak in Oklahoma, there was some speculation among meteorologists that the Fujiwhara effect may have played a role. Two areas of low pressure had formed over the southern plains, one located over western Oklahoma and the other over north-central Texas. At first it seemed that these two systems were separate and would not interact. But as the day progressed, they began to move closer together, with some models suggesting they could interact and produce a more significant weather event.
Ultimately, it is difficult to say with certainty whether the Fujiwhara effect played a role in the April 19, 2023 tornado outbreak. Regardless of the specific meteorological factors at play, the April 19, 2023 tornado outbreak serves as a stark reminder of the the destructive power of severe weather. It is important for communities in tornado-prone areas like Oklahoma to be prepared and take steps to minimize the risks associated with these storms, such as having a plan in place for seeking shelter and staying informed about weather updates. Following local storm trackers like KOCO Channel 5’s very own Derik Kline, who also happens to be the owner and founder of Hailtrace, isn’t a bad idea either. Keep an eye on the weather this season!