Tornadoes: The Fastest Winds on Earth
Highest Wind Speed on Earth – Oklahoma’s Tornadoes

The highest wind speed ever recorded did not originate from a hurricane, or even a straight-line wind. The fastest wind on earth blew right across the Oklahoma prairie during tornado season, 1999. 

On May 3, 1999 an F5 tornado tore through Moore, Oklahoma, as part of one of the deadliest tornado clusters ever recorded.  It reached verifiable speeds of 319 miles per hour and was over 2.6 miles wide at its peak. In fact, the 1999 Bridge Creek-Moore Tornado, as it is known in meteorological circles, holds the record for highest wind speed and may have been an F6 event due to winds surpassing the 319 miles per hour mark. Unfortunately, there was no way to accurately measure these speeds and the rating remains an F5 to this day.

The Bridge Creek-Moore Tornado was also the widest ever recorded. As a reference for how wide this tornado actually was, if it had touched down in Washington, D.C., a tornado that size would span from the Lincoln Memorial past the U.S. Capitol Building to 4th Street. In New York City, it would be the equal to the entire north-south length Central Park. This is the equivalent of 45.75 football fields laid end-to-end.

The Bridge Creek-Moore Tornado (or the May 3rd tornado, as it was locally known) had a duration of 85 minutes, covered 38 miles, and left $1 billion of damage in its wake, making it the fifth-costliest tornado on record, not taking inflation into account. During this devastating storm, 36 people lost their lives. Throughout its duration, the tornado that first touched down at 6:23pm CDT (Central Daylight Time) in Grady County quickly intensified to an F4 storm. It then traveled 6.5 miles, increasing in intensity to a violent F5 storm, before striking the town of Bridge Creek. From there, the tornado accosted Moore, and many rural communities as it turned toward Oklahoma City.

To this day, the May 3rd Bridge Creek-Moore Tornado holds the global record for widest tornado and fastest winds in the history of record-keeping.

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