Visualizing 30 Years of Oklahoma Tornados


Visualizing 30 Years of Oklahoma Tornados

When you think of Oklahoma, what comes to mind? Maybe you think of cowboys, farming, Native American culture or the oil and gas industry. All of those are common answers, but there’s something associated with Oklahoma’s identity more than anything else: tornados.

This weather phenomenon definitely isn’t unique to Oklahoma (just ask our neighbors), but it’s hard to deny Oklahoma’s reputation as a global hotbed for tornadic activity. This reputation has spawned interesting perceptions (and misconceptions) from those outside the Midwest. In fact, as I’ve traveled around the country, I’ve heard some pretty comical questions when it comes to tornados. Here are a few gems:

“How do you survive with all the tornados in Oklahoma?”

“How’d you survive that big one that hit that elementary school?”

“How does your teepee survive?”

First let me say that in my 30+ years in Oklahoma, I’ve only seen two tornados in person, and those were several miles off in the distance. The actual threat of a tornado striking your home is minimal since the paths of most tornados are typically very small. The vast majority of tornados also occur in rural areas, thus further decreasing the chances of most folks encountering them. Depending on where you live in Oklahoma, the risk of a life-threatening, EF5-rated storm (the big ones) is even less likely.

So, to answer the first question, surviving with all the tornados in Oklahoma is easy because I rarely encounter them. To answer the second question, I was about 120 miles away from that school, so that particular tornado didn’t affect me. As for the third question, I won’t even justify that with an answer. 😉

Let’s Look at the Data

Since I’ve lived here the majority of my life and I make a living in data, I thought a data visualization about the subject would be interesting to tackle once this year’s peak storm season came to a close. A data viz might also help in illustrating the frequency and impact of tornados across Oklahoma a little better than a static image or raw data. So, I naturally created a viz using Tableau. The viz below shows the past 30 years of tornado data collected by the National Weather Service. There are three parts:

  1. Comprehensive View
  2. F-Scale Breakdown
  3. My Home County (really the same as the #1 but with Tulsa County highlighted for fun)

You can navigate between these parts by clicking on the blue story points at the of the viz. Be sure to click around the viz for a variety of filtering options. Finally, if you ever find yourself threatened by a tornado, don’t forget your tornado precautions. Enjoy!

NOTE: If you notice that a tornado is missing for a county along with associated fatalities or injuries, try checking the adjacent counties to see if they wound up there. Due to the nature of the data source, Tableau attributed many tornados to only one county even though those tornados are listed as passing through multiple counties in the original data source. I went ahead resolved this for all of the EF5s, but I left anything classified below that category alone as that would’ve require considerable manual work.

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Dustin Wyers

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