At least two people were killed as stormy weather and at least one confirmed tornado swept through a rural county south of Oklahoma City on Wednesday night, the local police said.
The two deaths were recorded in or near Cole, a town of about 600 people south of Oklahoma City, Scott Gibbons, a deputy sheriff for McClain County, said by phone overnight. The authorities believe that the deaths are related to the storm, he added.
Deputy Gibbons said people elsewhere in the county had also been injured, but that he did not yet know how many.
The National Weather Service warned on Wednesday night that the storm’s exact path was hard to predict because it was behaving “erratically.” KWTV, a CBS affiliate in Oklahoma, aired footage of what it said was a large tornado crossing Interstate 40 in the city of Shawnee, about 40 miles east of Oklahoma City.
Tornado warnings in Oklahoma and neighboring states had expired by early Thursday morning, but nearly seven million people across Iowa, Kansas, Nebraska and Missouri were under a severe thunderstorm watch.
Deputy Gibbons said that the storm had cut a path of damage a couple of miles wide and about ten miles long in McClain County. Some power lines were down, and a “considerable number” of homes appeared to have been destroyed, he added.
Nearly 20,000 electricity customers were without power in Oklahoma as dawn approached on Thursday, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us. Most of them were in Pottawatomie County, east of McClain.
One of the places that sustained damage in Pottawatomie County was Oklahoma Baptist University in Shawnee. The university said early Thursday that while it was not aware of any injuries, the storm damage to its campus was “significant.”
In McClain County, some people affected by the storm were sheltering at home, and others at a local high school, Deputy Gibbons said. But there had been no reports so far of anyone being unaccounted for, he added.
Scientists are not yet able to determine whether there is a link between climate change and the frequency or strength of tornadoes. But they do say that tornadoes seem to be occurring in greater clusters in recent years, and that the region of the United States where most tornadoes occur, an area of the Great Plains known as Tornado Alley, appears to be shifting eastward.