Sometimes, it's not so thrilling to nail a forecast.
NOAA scientists predicted that the areas in the red boxes would experience tornadoes and the areas in the yellow boxes might experience tornadoes. In preparation, geostationary weather satellites (the G in GOES stands for geostationary) were put in Super Rapid Scan* mode so that they could send down higher-resolution data in both spatial and temporal scales.
Hopefully, the faster scan and downlink rates bought people time to scramble to shelters and kept the casualty rates lower than they would have been without the precious few extra minutes of warning.
Even though Scott Bachmier of the CIMSS Satellite Blog has been sequestered, his boss found some money to keep him blogging for public education. He put together this incredible animation of Oklahoma on May 18, showing "overshooting" cloud tops. In plain English, air parcels were tossed upwards with such tremendous force, their momentum carried them up above their thermodynamic stability level. Watch this stereo animation. The clouds literally boil over.
The animation for May 20 is similarly impressive. In addition to the boiling behavior, look at the lines of waves emanating from the frontal region and extending to the southeast (bottom right) corners of the images.
Imagine living through the devastation of the past three days in Oklahoma and knowing that you face three or more days of this. How are you going to soothe your kids while not downplaying the very real danger?
USA Today put together a graphic overlay of the May 3, 1999 and May 20, 2013 tornadoes.
Google Map of Oklahoma tornado sites?
Perpetual drought and longer fire seasons in the southwest, longer tornado seasons in the midwest, longer hurricane seasons and more intense hurricanes in the southeast, and more nor'easter meets subtropical jet mega-snowstorms in the northeast are all signatures of a warming planet. The physics of how a warmer overall global climate leads to an increase in the probability of these events is well understood.
* Animations such as these are possible only because images are scanned and beamed to earth every ~5 minutes. Thus, each frame is taken about 5 minutes apart. With satellite bandwidth, you have to rob Peter to pay Paul. Imagery in the southern hemisphere was probably sacrificed for this.
When you think about it, it's incredible that photons fall on a detector out in space and then we get movies like this a little while later.