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A Tornado Touches Down in Oklahoma; California Helicopter Crash

Aired May 24, 2008 - 16:00   ET


JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: If a tornado were to pop out, it would be somewhere in this area.
MASON DUNN, KWTV REPORTER: It's directly about five miles west of Bison now, moving east northeast and ironically, Gary, I'm looking to my right two miles to my right, there's sunshine over Hennessy right now. So, this storm pretty isolated and pretty strong storm. We've seen two large tornadoes come out of this. Very lucky we'll have to go back and check on the damage. But I don't think - I think a pig farm was hit pretty hard as we saw and I don't think any homes have been taken as of yet.

JERAS: We got word from the police department out of Hennessy confirming that it was a hog farm that we saw destroyed earlier. If we go back to split screen again for a second. We put a storm tracker on this for you showing you where the storm is now and where it's heading. If it continues to move in a due easterly direction, you can see it's going to be hitting the town of Bison by 3:58 p.m. So, that's right about now, so this is getting very close to the Bison area right now. We could be watching towns like Douglas and Marshall. While you're not under the tornado warning, at this time, we think that it could stay together and head in your direction as well. We're going to bring Fredericka Whitfield in now to join us. Fredericka has been watching this unfold before our eyes as well. And Fredricka just an unbelievable situation seeing the tornado develop, seeing it touch down, see it do damage and now we're seeing it lifted at this time but still anything can drop out at any time.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: That's right. Just see the fury of mother nature unfold on live television and in the middle of the day like this is extraordinary. These are the earlier pictures that we saw. You mentioned Jacqui that wall cloud, that very massive wall cloud that has spawned at least two tornadoes that have actually touched down right here on live television on here CNN. This appears to be the first one that funnel cloud that formed and then touching down right there, what seemed to be at a very remote rural area.

And then as we continue to watch just within a 30-minute period, we watched it kind of spring right into action there to the lower right of your screen what we now are learning to be a hog farm there in Hennessy that was simply obliterated there from those spinning winds. It happened so instantly, so quickly. And it's remarkable, Jacqui, that there were no other structures nearby. This was a pretty sizable hog farm. You can see the expanse of it right here. But just see how it was just sheared from the power of this tornado. Remarkable. And then to the left of the screen, which we're not seeing right now which appeared to be perhaps the farm house which may have been unscathed if not hit by some of this flying debris. But as this then funnel clouds kind of went right back and receded right into that big wall cloud that you described Jacqui. It wasn't long, maybe 15 minutes after that where another funnel cloud seemed to spin and touch ground and really kind of destroying mostly a wooded area or trees but it didn't seem to be that it touched any more structures. Remarkable too that this helicopter, Jacqui, as we've been listening to this pilot there, (Mason Dunn), kind of give a play by play of what he's been seeing. Their chopper is only about two miles away from these twisters and we've heard him talk about how he's trying to really control that chopper and keep it as far away nowhere closer than the two miles that he is already experiencing there.

Presumably, Jacqui, the winds while we see the destruction of that funnel cloud once it hits the ground. Just talk to me about the velocity to the winds and how far out you can actually feel that wind shear, perhaps that helicopter, you know, talking about the two-mile, I guess, safety zone that he seems to be keeping. Is it hard because of that?

JERAS: Yes. Well, you want to stay as far away as you possibly can. But you know, the air around the tornado will all kind of suck in towards the vortex part itself. So, you know, he could be feeling that pull with his chopper. And sometimes we can see damage away from a tornado, you know, away from the vortex part of the storm. Of course, you know that the debris can fly miles and miles and miles away as well. So, certainly not something you ever want to get close to. And I Mason Dunn has been there a long time and he's a professional and knows what he's doing out there and he is also in close coordination with meteorologists back in his station which continues to monitor the Doppler radar and the situation. But amazing that we've seen so little damage with this. So, you know, that it is a rural area, fairly unpopulated. But we're getting close to that city of (Buffalo), or the town of Bison now. And that will certainly be a concern as we continue to see that wall cloud, continue to see rotation in that wall cloud. So, as long as that's still there and being supported, you know that another tornado could drop out of that at any given time and we've seen that happen twice now already right before our very eyes.

WHITFIELD: Yes, it's extraordinary and all day long, Jacqui, you and Reynolds Wolf have been talking about potential severe weather in the midsection of this country. This certainly was in the zone, wasn't it? This portion King Fisher County, Oklahoma in the zone of a potential damaging weather?

JERAS: Right, absolutely. The storm prediction center issued the tornado watch about 1:00 or so this afternoon, that's Central time. And then just a few hours later we started seeing strong rotation on the Doppler radar with this one cell and now there's another cell just to the north of this one that we've been tracking that also has some rotation indicated by Doppler radar but nothing on the ground with that one so to speak. And then we also have a tornado watch which we just issued for a good chunk of central parts of South Dakota and we think we can see severe weather anywhere from South Dakota through Nebraska through Kansas and down into Oklahoma. Now, you know, today is not the same kind of day, Fredricka, as what we had yesterday and the day before. This is what we would call a slight risk day where you know, we'll see pictures like this. Well, we'll get tornadoes but we're not expecting to get 15 reports of Ef-3, 4, 5 tornadoes causing tremendous damage and staying on the ground a long period of time.

But you know, it really keeps things true to light also that, you know, we make a big deal when we're expecting a huge outbreak as we should. But all it takes is one tornado to cause a major damage and major destruction and you really have to be respectful of that, particularly over a holiday weekend where many people might be a little more relaxed and they might be a little distracted.


JERAS: And they might be away from their telephones and away from their radios and televisions. So today is the kind of day where a weather radio can be a key with you and it's great that you can put a battery in it and take it out boating with you and take it out there in your camper with you and it will go off no matter where you are if you program it properly.

WHITFIELD: Great advice. You know, and just looking at this wall cloud, Jacqui and just seeing the variations of color, you know, going to, you know, just pitch black there at the top and really the reminder here, is these little tails, you know, these funnel clouds can really form anywhere within this wall cloud. It doesn't necessarily have to be the exact location where we've already seen those two, right?

JERAS: Well, it's a little low hanging that you see there that is kind of what we just call scud clouds and it just has to do more with the moisture and none of that low hanging that you're seeing could be developing into a tornado. It's the whole - it's that whole entire thing that is filling up almost your entire screen where things could lower down.

WHITFIELD: Well, Jacqui, hold that thought for a moment because on the line with us now is the under sheriff out of Garfield County. I mentioned King Fisher County as one of the counties that's been targeted here with this wall cloud kind of traveling and covering two counties now and look, live pictures right now as we're also seeing right now again, Jacqui. Another funnel cloud that has formed here. Before I get to (Jerry Niles), Jacqui, one more thought that you might have on this.

JERAS: Well, just a perfect example of how unpredictable it can be, that there's, you know, really no notice. You've got a wall cloud there and next thing you know there's a tornado again on the ground. There you can see some of the debris in that field, again, a very rural area. So this cell is showing no signs of weakening and this can be going on, Fredricka, you know these warnings at least until the bottom of the hour. We could watch this thing hold together for quite some time. WHITFIELD: And what is fueling these funnel clouds, is it the activity taking place within that big wall cloud above, or is there something about the conditions down on the ground, the temperatures et cetera that is helping to fuel these twisters?

JERAS: It's all of the above. You know, atmosphere conditions have been very favorable in the plains the last couple of days for this. And one of the key elements of the strong upper level winds. You have to have the strong winds in the upper levels of the atmosphere to help support and maintain storms like this. And then when your winds at the surface are moving in a different direction, that helps you get that rotation or that spin, that vorticity in the air to start to get tornadoes like this to begin to develop.

WHITFIELD: What's remarkable too Jacqui, in the middle of the screen here, just as you think that funnel cloud has kind of receded back into that wall cloud, really there is something still on the ground, that very faint colored tail is still there, even though, I guess the most dominant portion of that dark cloud seems to have dissipated. That's what's so deceiving here.

JERAS: Yes, sometimes you can't see it. There could be a tornado on the ground and it's not touching - not hitting anything. You don't see it because sometimes it's just a water vapor, the moisture in the tornado that makes it visible. But most of the time it's the debris. And so, we know it's on the ground when you start to see trees and homes and things like that in its path and it's the debris that fills it up.

WHITFIELD: It looks like it's over water right there, kind of creating a water spout at what appears to be, right there at the bottom of that tip of that funnel.

JERAS: Yes, it could be.

WHITFIELD: At the bottom.

JERAS: Yes. There's been a lot of rain in this area.


JERAS: the last few weeks even, not just the last few days. So, I'm sure many of these fields are wet and kind of soggy. And yes, if it's going to hit water that's all going to be flying as well and help make that funnel a little bit more visible.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jacqui hold on for a moment because Jerry Niles, the under sheriff with Garfield County is on the line with us now. Mr. Niles, thanks so much for joining us. I know this is really some very frightening moments for folks in your county as well as nearby King Fisher County. What have you experienced where you are?

VOICE OF UNDERSHERIFF JERRY NILES, GARFIELD COUNTY, OKLAHOMA: Right now, we're attempting to reestablish contact with the tornado on the ground, we're about four miles from it. It is approximately three miles north of Tennessee, three miles south of Bison, Iowa. We're approaching into the west, the second funnel in the last ten minutes.

WHITFIELD: And you're tracking it in what way and how does that information help you inform the people who live there or better communicate what is taking place or what to anticipate?

NILES: Right now we have storm spotters out in the field -- both law enforcement and storm spotters - we also have an emergency in the weather center in operation in our county. So we're tracking it both by radar, visual and also radio confirmation.

WHITFIELD: Are you also experiencing rain or hail or anything like that?

NILES: In front of the storm, in front of the tornado funnel, we did not. No rain or moisture of that kind. On the back side we're experiencing wind and rain and hail up to about kind of full size.

WHITFIELD: Well, do you know much about the hog farm that we understand was hit was there in Hennessey? And we watched it happened live here on television where a funnel cloud appeared to be kind in the remote area in the middle of nowhere and the next thing you see is what appeared to be that large hog farm that was hit. Do you know anything about that?

NILES: No, I do not. That was in Hennessey.

WHITFIELD: OK. And that is in King Fisher County. And there in Garfield County, what are the, I guess towns that you're most concerned about?

NILES: Well, right now I'm about quarter of a mile from a tornado that has come down beside me. So, I'm backing up and getting out of the way. We don't need to be that close to a funnel of any size.

WHITFIELD: Exactly. You need to keep your distance, indeed. Now, how about, describe for me the majority of the community, is it mostly farm country, and if so, or even if not, do most people, most properties have some sort of underground safety location, you know, for tornadoes?

NILES: OK. The initial area that touched down is rural. Population is not that dense. It is farm country through the east of the funnels where they touched down there is communities about 1500 in population, the metropolitan area with a population of almost 60,000, about 20 miles to the north of where these storms are tracking right now.

WHITFIELD: This is tornado alley, do most people have underground safety zones on their properties?

NILES: Probably it runs about 50 percent.

WHITFIELD: OK. All right. As we're watching now yet another funnel cloud forming and actually touching ground as it spins its way there. Is this about the location - I mean, do we expect there's only one funnel cloud that's on the ground when you talk about you being a quarter mile away from one. Is it likely the one we're watching? NILES: Probably not. This is a very light one. We've got several probably wrapped up in the system. The rain is coming down pretty heavy.

WHITFIELD: What's your greatest concern, Mr. Niles right now about being able to, you know, make sure that most people know what's going on, do all the things that they can do to better secure their safety?

NILES: Basically either have weather radios like you talked about, tuned into the local stations, we have some excellent weather stations in the Oklahoma area that are really on top of the storm tracking season all year long. The best thing to do is to be weather wise.

WHITFIELD: And explain to me the importance of why you are on the road and why you are tracking and keeping a close eye on this as opposed to you yourself being you yourself in a safe place?

NILES: Stand by --

WHITFIELD: All right. I'm talking to Jerry Niles there, undersheriff for Garfield County. One of two counties that seem to be in kind of in the bull's-eye of this tornadic activity taking place. Garfield county and King Fisher County, we're looking at live pictures right now of a funnel cloud that has formed from this massive wall cloud there just hanging over these two counties. Jacqui Jeras is in our severe weather center here. Jacqui, what more do you know?

JERAS: Well, you're talking about why it's important to be out there and tracking the storm, Fredericka. And I just wanted to mention that you know there's a huge network of storm spotters who track these storms. They have the experience, they know which side of the storm they want to be in in order to be safe. And if they are out there and can actually see it, we know exactly where that tornado is instead of just kind of estimating a little bit, you know based on radar. And there you can see it on the radar. That little hook that you can see. That's where that tornado is just north of the town of the Hennessey.

Now, just tot north of there, we got another possible tornado. That one's being indicated by Doppler radar. But the only way we know if they are on the ground is if somebody actually sees it. So we don't want the public out there going and tracking out this thing. But we want the trained people who know what they are doing, who know to be because sometimes these storms can be a little bit unpredictable. So, we need somebody who knows what they are doing and where they can plan an escape route and knows which side of the storm to be on so that you're away from it, so, it's moving away from you and certainly not towards you.

WHITFIELD: All right, Jacqui, I wonder if this funnel cloud that we were just seeing there near Hennessey is exactly the one that storm chaser Charles Allison seems to have his eye on. Charles on the line with us now. Charles, where are you and what are you seeing?

VOICE OF CHARLES ALLISON, STORM CHASER: I'm located about one mile north of Hennessey right now. I'm looking to my northwest. That tornado appears to have lifted at the moment from my vantage point. Earlier it was a very large stove pipe tornado on the ground doing a lot of damage about five or six miles west of Hennessey.

WHITFIELD: Damage mostly to wooded areas or do you think damage to properties. Because I see that there are a lot of farms in the area.

ALLISON: Yes, there are a lot of farms out here. I mostly saw trees in the air, I didn't see any structures hit from where I was out, but I'm sure there's some homes out there that are damaged.

WHITFIELD: And you're about a mile north of Hennessey, does that mean you're a mile north as well from that funnel cloud that you saw?

ALLISON: Actually the tornado I saw first that was just west of me. Right now the storm is northwest of me.

WHITFIELD: OK. What's the distance you like to stay from these funnel clouds, especially ones there making contact with land?

ALLISON: Well, it's important to which direction they are moving. As long as they are moving away from me, I don't mind getting close. But you know it can be dangerous and they can change at any moment. So, I usually stay at least a half mile to a mile away.

WHITFIELD: And we learn a lot from storm chasers like you. But I still always have to ask why do you do this? I mean, it's certainly a dangerous, you know, choice to make, but are you doing this for the purposes of research or are you helping to provide information to municipalities that perhaps they couldn't get otherwise? Why do you do it?

ALLISON: Well, actually I'm a chaser for the ABC affiliate out of Tulsa, Oklahoma. And it's entertaining sometimes too.

WHITFIELD: How do you stay safe?

ALLISON: Well, we're equipped pretty good. We have live radar in our vehicles and we have locators and so we can - and you know, experience is always good too. I mean, you can't have that equipment without the experience but I've been doing it for a while. So --

WHITFIELD: Well, I'm looking at the clock, it's 18 minutes after the 4:00 hour Eastern time. Maybe it's about 30 minutes ago if not a little bit more when we saw the first funnel cloud forming. And we put it on CNN here live as it was happening by the view of a chopper pilot who was nearby. Was that about the time you saw the first funnel cloud form or have there been others preceding that? Do you think?

ALLISON: Well, I didn't get the exact time line of the chopper did arrive after I saw the first tornadoes. So that first tornado had been on the ground about ten minutes before the chopper arrived.

WHITFIELD: And you and others have been aware of this kind of severe, I guess cell in the system that this was a great potential, yes? ALLISON: Yes. I was actually - there's two cells here in Oklahoma right now. They are tornadic. I was on the northern cell earlier but I did drop to the southern cell because of the better environment for the storm.

WHITFIELD: Extraordinary. And again, we're looking at taped pictures now because these were live not long ago of funnel clouds forming out of this massive wall cloud here. And for those of you may just now be joining us, this is in King Fisher County there in Oklahoma. And what you also may have seen if you tuned in early enough is that there was quite a bit of debris that was then flying around as a result of that funnel cloud. We understand that was a hog farm that was obliterated from that funnel cloud touching down there.

Jacqui Jeras is with us as well in the severe weather center. Jacqui, I don't know if you have any questions for Charles Allison, the storm chaser. He works for the ABC affiliate there out of Tulsa but he's kind enough to join us now with our insights.

JERAS: Yes, Charles, compared to what you've seen in the past, you know, what kind of characteristics are you seeing about this tornado? We've seen a lot of changes with this one.

ALLISON: Yes, the first tornado was a sort of a large cone for first few minutes, it wasn't actually touching the ground. It did that for about five minutes and then a funnel formed. It was kind of thin and eventually it evolved into a large stove pipe just pretty much straight up and down -

JERAS: Right.

ALLISON: -- tornado and was picking up a lot of debris in the air. That eventually lifted and then a second tornado formed and more of a sort of elephant trunk and kind of roped out. Then a third tornado did develop a little bit later.

JERAS: All right. Now, you're talking about tracking that storm that's on the northern tier of this one. We still have a warning on that. Are you in touch with anybody that might know the latest on that storm?

ALLISON: Not at the moment, I'm not. All right, we haven't heard anything on the ground with that one either.

JERAS: Do you expect to be out there throughout the day today?

ALLISON: Yes, I'll be out all day.

JERAS: To continue to track them. Anything else that you think the public should know kind of about how these tornadoes can develop and drop out and pick back up without a moment's notice?

ALLISON: Well, I did notice there was a lot of local people out viewing the tornado. And at times that can be dangerous with the way these things can change their track. I was pretty close to it and it gets a little concerning seeing those people out there like that. They really shouldn't be doing that.

JERAS: Yes, absolutely. We're glad that you are out there and you know what you're doing, Charles. Hey, any hail? We're getting word that potentially there could be tennis ball sized hail with the storm as well.

ALLISON: Well, I'm sure there's some pretty large hail. I usually try to stay out of the core of the storm.

JERAS: Glad you do.


JERAS: All right. Thanks very much, Charles Allison. We appreciate it.

ALLISON: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right. Jacqui, while we continue to watch the developments here in Oklahoma, north Oklahoma as you continue to watch the wall cloud that seems to be springing a whole lot of tornadic activity here over both Garfield County and King Fisher County. Jacqui, we're just now learning that storm system that moved through Kansas yesterday, well now we understand through the Associated Press that two people have been reported killed from that system. We understand that more than a dozen tornadoes ripped through a portion of the state there. And we understand according to the Associated Press that a man and woman from Colorado were found in their car in a field 13 miles east of Pratt in south central Kansas as a result of at least 17 tornadoes that ripped through western and central Kansas yesterday.

So, of course we're going to continue to watch the developments, severe weather throughout the midsection of this country. This latest tornadic activity taking place in northern Oklahoma. We're going to take a short break from now. We'll be right back right after this.


WHITFIELD: This breaking story we continue to follow out of northern Oklahoma. You're looking at a massive wall cloud here. And what we've been witnessing over the past 45 minutes is a series of twisters that has simply sprouted from the bottom of that big cloud. And we witnessed not long ago some of the destruction, not just trees in what appears to be a very rural area of Garfield and King Fisher counties but also we watched a hog farm simply get flattened by this twister that touched ground. Jacqui Jeras is in the severe weather center and this is yet another day of tornadic activity this just after yesterday Kansas was hit hard. And we understand from the Associated Press that two people now died from that. They were both from Colorado. They were found in their car in a field about 13 miles east of Pratt in south central Kansas. And now this we're seeing here in Oklahoma. No reports, Jacqui, of anyone being injured from this, but we are seeing a hog farm there. We know that the animals certainly could not have endured this kind of wind activity. JERAS: Yes, certainly not. You would need to be underground really to escape this one Fredericka. A very powerful tornado. As you can see there, and you know that threat, by the way, hopefully it's going to stay, you know, be diminished a little bit today compared to what we've had the last few days. But all it takes is one like this to cause any kind of damage or any kind of injuries or fatalities. So, really take this seriously today, that threat right now continues for Garfield County and King Fisher county in Oklahoma. The wall cloud is still very apparent. We can see another tornado drop down at any time. So, stay in shelter as we speak.

There you can see the cell. And there's also one by the way up to the north of there with rotation on Doppler radar just to the south and west of the town of Kremlin. So, you need to be seeking shelter as well. Even though we're not seeing pictures like the other one, it could still happen. Tornado watch in effect across northern and central Oklahoma. Oklahoma City, by the way, is on the edge of this. We've got a brand-new watch in the last half an hour for much of the state of South Dakota and particularly in central parts of the state. This really could fill in so to speak, Fredricka, in between South Dakota and Oklahoma. And all those states in between line them up. And we can see more action continuing throughout the afternoon and ongoing into the evening hours as well.

WHITFIELD: Wow, incredible stuff all unfolding on live television here. Broad daylight there in northern Oklahoma, very frightening moments especially for the people there living in Garfield and King Fisher County. Jacqui, we'll check back with you and of course, we'll continue to watch the developments here out of northern Oklahoma on this very powerful weather day.

Meantime another story we continue to fall, this one out of southern California. Tragic moment there on Catalina Island, just outside of Los Angeles. A tourist helicopter crashes and what we learned as well is there were some eyewitnesses that heard this helicopter was in trouble before it made impact and some simply sprung into action right away, only to make a discovery that three people were killed and three others injured.

Here now is one eye witness who described what she saw, Debra Hanson, exactly what she did to spring into action.

Debra Hanson who is an American Airlines flight attendant described that as soon as she got to the scene after jumping some fences and seeing that the debris was burning, she was able to see there were some bodies just outside of the chopper.

She managed to yell out to them and tried to find anyone who was responsive, none of them were, however. She then got into action by pulling some of the victims away from the fiery debris. It appears as though she may have been very instrumental in helping to save the lives of at least three of the people.

You saw some of the images there of the first responders who were able to then take the three injured to the hospital. We have since learned that three people did die. You see right there images that we were able to get in.

The earlier still images you saw were from an I-reporter, actually the granddaughter of Deborah Hansen who is actually one of those helped to rescue. Raine Horace (ph) was the person who actually took the pictures there. I don't know if we are able bring you the sound of the interview I did of Deborah Hansen earlier.

Let's listen in now what she had to say.

DEBORAH HANSEN, FLIGHT ATTENDANT, AMERICAN AIRLINE: Well, I sprung into action I believe because of all of my training. I'm a flight attendant with American Airlines so I did have training -- many years of training behind me.

And I saw a helicopter was coming in over this yacht club and it was coming in like you could tell that it was going to crash and I started running. And I cleared the fence, around the fence it had already crashed and burst into flames. And I started running towards it because I could see people laying outside the helicopter. And I'm screaming at them to crawl -- do what you need to do to get away from the fire because it was engulfed in --

WHITFIELD: And they were responsive enough to --

HANSEN: No, they were not.

WHITFIELD: Then what?

HANSEN: They were incoherent actually. And I pulled -- there was another man behind me and I pulled one of the guys, pulled him and he's telling me he has a broken leg and I'm telling him I still have to pull him. If I don't pull him, he's going to burn up in the fire.

And then that one girl that was standing up, I told her to (inaudible) and another gentleman here was helping and was able to pull another person out. So we actually -- four people got out but one died on the ground.

WHITFIELD: Oh, my goodness, incredible. I suppose someone was able to call -- or enough people saw that there was a chopper and in trouble and crashed -- and then emergency response teams were able to arrive because we do have images showing at least one person who was being wheeled into a hospital, hopefully one of those injured that you helped rescue?

HANSEN: Yes, I'm pretty sure it was. There were some people that was actually rescued with other help from the other people here at the island. It mean, it is unbelievable the response they have and all of the teamwork they have over here on this island.

WHITFIELD: Unbelievable too that you happened to be nearby and you have the kind of training as a flight attendant with American Airlines and you were able to spring into action and seemingly do all the right things.

Deborah Hansen thanks so much for your time. And I know the family members are thankful too that it was you who was nearby to help pull the injured away from those flames. Thanks so much.

HANSEN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: And right now we're receiving new video images of that very crash of that helicopter crash there in Catalina Island. You can see the debris fields there; pretty frightening moments for all those involved and tragic as well.

There were six people on board, including the pilot. Three people we have learned died; three others injured. You heard Deborah Hansen's story right there. She was an eyewitness and she was also someone who sprung into action to really help save the lives of at least those three who did survive before they were able to be taken to the nearby hospital.

Again, newest images right now of that tourist helicopter that crashed there in Catalina Island this Memorial Day Weekend.

And of course, we will continue to watch the developments out of northern Oklahoma. Severe weather, you've seen these images on the left hand side of your screen of several tornadoes that have touched grounds there in Garfield and Kingfisher Counties. We continue to watch the developments there and live pictures right now.

We're going to take a short break. We'll be right back.


WHITFIELD: Welcome back. We continue to watch the developments out of northern Oklahoma. You're looking at this sizable wall cloud here because we have watched over the past hour now a number of twisters that have simply been spawned by the wall cloud and have actually touched ground.

I think I've lost count of how many. At least four twisters that we've seen and about 30 minutes ago we saw one of the twisters when it touched ground also obliterate a hog farm there in Garfield County; this tornado also hitting Kingfisher County.

And a number of law enforcement as well as storm chasers are on the ground to keep an eye on the tornadic activities so that they can best warn the residents even though this is a mostly rural, mostly farm community. Certainly they want to make sure that all of the residents in that community are as safe as they can with the first kind of response that can be given.

Meantime, we are getting confirmation now that tornadic activity that took place yesterday in western and central Kansas has meant two people have died as a result of 17 tornadoes that had actually hit ground in that region of Kansas yesterday; CNN now confirming that information.

And of course as we continue to watch the activity here in Oklahoma, our Jacqui Jeras is in the Severe Weather Center. Any new information that you are learning Jacqui? JACQUI JERAS, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Not really. You know I've been watching these pictures, Fredricka. I'll tell you we still tell the big wall cloud and it continues to rotate. If you look really closely, all that black stuff up on the top of that picture, that whole thing is the wall cloud and that is actually rotating.

There you can see on radar, we put our shear signatures on there and you can see the area that we're talking about with that rotation. The purple and the blue that you see down there, that is what we call also an indication that some of that shear. So this thing is still spinning and we could see anything drop out at any time.

Another tornado on the ground is a very good possibility with the cell. We've got the warning which remains in effect for Garfield County. They just have extended it now a little bit further on off to the east. So National Weather Service concurs this is going to be ongoing event, Fredricka, that this could continue to stay together and continue produce tornadoes at any time.

WHITFIELD: It is extraordinary. It really is. Jacqui thanks so much. We know you're going to continue to watch it as will we.

Meantime there are other stories we do want to follow for you here out of the Newsroom. Texas child welfare officials have agreed that 12 children removed from a polygamist group's ranch will be reunited with their parents. That move coming after an Appeals Court decision Thursday that said officials had no right to take the kids from their parents.

The state of Texas hopes to have that ruling overturned. Let's check in with legal analyst Sunny Hostin who is joining us by phone from New York.

So Sunny, if the appellate court is saying these kids, at least 12 of these kids have to be reunited with their families, does this mean that likely the other 400, it's inevitable that they will be returned too? Is this case falling apart?

SUNNY HOSTIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: You know, that's not what this means at all. Under the law really each child should be looked at individually and that appears to be what's happening. Yes, 12 out of almost, I think at this count, 465 children were returned. But that they were only returned with the consent of Child Protective Services absent a court order and they have to live away from the ranch and they are not allowed back to the ranch.

There are specific perimeters and they are for specific children. That decision doesn't mean anything to the remaining children. We know now that Texas is fighting the return of the children to their parents and there is an appeal pending right now. So everything in my view remains the same.

WHITFIELD: This is very interesting because you've got one court decision which says it is all right in which to remove these children from this ranch, put them in various locations. And then you've got an appellate ruling who says, this was not right, in which to take the children in the first place. And now there's an appeal of that appeal?

HOSTIN: That's right. And that's what we want. We want these decisions to be reviewed by the court. That is their job. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has asked Texas Supreme Court to stay this appellate order and keep the children where they are until the high court considers these arguments. And that really is what is happening and that is what should happen in a case like this in my view.

WHITFIELD: But clearly something was missing from this case for the appellate court to then say, this was inappropriate action?

HOSTIN: you know, I think and I have to tell you and I've said this before, I think the appellate was wrong here.


HOSTIN: Yes, I really do. I think they made the wrong decision. I think that no one is disputing that this was a polygamist ranch and that it was very clear to the investigators that underage children were being --

WHITFIELD: Why have there not been any charges? We're talking early April that these children were taken -- children and women were taken from this ranch and still no charges if indeed there were young girls under 16 because Texas state says you can be 16 and older. If they were under 16 and they were married away and they were having children at such a young age then why were none of the men charged?

HOSTIN: I think that that is because this is unprecedented number of cases here. If you have to treat each case individually, you have to investigate each and every case.

We know there's a sort of a conspiracy of silence. These aren't people that are being forthcoming; that are opening up to investigators. And so the investigation is ongoing. And that's what we want.

We want the investigation to be ongoing. We don't want people arrested without a full investigation. And that's why it's taking so long. Just because it's taking so long does not mean that crimes did not occur here.

As you know, Fredricka, I used to be a child sex crimes prosecutor. I'm fascinated by this case but I'm also very concerned about this case because in my view we sort of have evidence -- at least evidence of systemic sexual abuse of children. And that is the ball that we all have to keep our eyes on here.

WHITFIELD: Is part of the problem too, the whole birth certificate record? In some cases there are none and in others you don't really know the legitimacy of the birth certificates of some of the young ladies who were claiming that, "No, I'm actually of age, more than 16, I could responsibly be married?"

HOSTIN: And that's true. And the other thing I think that we have to keep in mind is everyone is sort of coughing up the word "marriage." These are not real marriage under Texas law -- you're not allowed. Polygamy is illegal in Texas and in most states. So we're talking about a spirit under marriage under sort of the church's law.

Imagine as a court, as a judge having to deal with that when we're talking about marriage, we shouldn't be talking about it in the legal sense because by all accounts these are illegal unifications and illegal marriages. These aren't marriages where they went to the state or city hall and got married. That is not what we're talking about.

WHITFIELD: All right. Sunny Hostin thanks so much out of New York. We appreciate it.

HOSTIN: Thank you.

WHITFIELD: All right that case is very complicated. Of course we're going to continue to watch the developments.

Breaking story of northern Oklahoma. There is incredible tornadic activity much of it caught live on television right now. Live pictures right now of that wall cloud that has spawned a number of tornadoes; so many so far that we've kind of lost count within the past hour. We continue to watch the developments there.

Meantime, we'll also go live to Arizona where John McCain is looking ahead at potential vice-presidential candidates. We'll talk to Mary Snow when we come right back.


WHITFIELD: Live pictures right now of yet another tornado that has touched down there in Garfield County. While it appears to be a field we know that it's a rural area, very much farm community.

At least right now if we can remove the banner there to get a better view of exactly how this funnel is touching down there. You can see it kind of crisscrossing what appears to be some crops or farm field right there.

Let's listen in right now -- likely this is going to be a pilot Mason Dunn. Let's listen in.

At that very moment it seems like he stopped talking. But what we're seeing the view from a chopper there -- a news chopper who has been providing images throughout the afternoon here for over an hour now, remarkably.

He said earlier that he's keeping his chopper about two miles distance because of the kind of suction that the tornadoes certainly produce.

Jacqui Jeras is the in Severe Weather Center. This is appearing to be a very wide kind of funnel cloud in comparison to what we've seen earlier.

JERAS: Certainly a strong one right now Fredricka. And in fact we just saw this one develop right before our eyes literally. We are in the commercial break and you could see that wall cloud rotating and all of a sudden you start to see a little funnel and just drops right out. And there you can see the thing is back on the ground.

It does appear to maybe be a little bit larger than the previous tornado. This is about the forth one now that we've seen come out of the main parent cell. So it's been one super cell but then you'll see different tornadoes drop in and out of that storm.

So there you can see. And it kind of has what we were talking -- remember when we were talking about storm spotter a little bit early, Charles Allison from the Hennessey area? He was talking about that stove pipe tornado. Well you can see that thing look like it lifted back up once again.

But just a few seconds ago when you saw it up and down, that's what he's talking about when you see kind of that vertical-looking thing. So that's what we call the stove pipe type of tornado. Just as quick as it came, Fredricka, it was gone again. Look at that.

So it's just incredible that we're seeing these changes happening so quickly right before our very eyes and we're going through this together.

This is what it looked like moments ago, that's your stove pipe tornado there. And believe it or not this thing has lifted right back up.

So in a rural area that's the best news we can tell you about all of this. So far no reports of injuries, we have that hog farm which was destroyed and so certainly some sad news out of that. But this thing is hopping and skipping and jumping all over the place and mostly staying out in farm fields.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And incredible too. Just as you talked about the variations of the funnels that we've been seeing. We've heard various reports of the kind of moisture in the air. In some cases there is rain, in others there might be hail and then in other parts of these counties, nothing.

JERAS: Yes. Well, there you can see -- looks like that wall cloud is still just kind of sitting there and spinning. So we're watching real closely in the middle of that thing, it looks like we might be getting a little bit of -- I don't know, I'm seeing some spinning there. We'll watch this together and see if we're going to get that back expanding and back on down out of the ground.

There's been some hail reported with the storm, possibly as large as tennis ball size. So that's another threat you've got to think about. And I'll tell you, my Doppler radar here is lighting up like it's the 4th of July. You wouldn't believe al the lightning strikes also which are being reported.

The rotation that we're seeing here right now that's just to the south and west of the town of Douglas. And so we're getting worried about folks who live in Douglas; maybe some people who live just to the north of Marshall and also over into the Covington Area. There you can see -- well we got our signature on there -- and there's that hook that we talk about, which is in the radar as well.

So there's the town of Douglas -- it's moving towards a northeasterly direction. But at times as we've been listening to our chopper pilots as well, sometimes this thing has been trying to move a little bit more due east.

So we get these little ebbs and flows and these changes, you know the atmosphere is fluid, so it continues to kind of catch you off guard. Just when you think it's doing one thing, it's going to go ahead and start to do another.

But that is certainly a very large ominous-looking wall cloud that we're seeing right there as well. And you know, we're in a unique perspective here, Fredricka.


JERAS: It's true because we're looking at the plain states. You're only going to catch pictures like this when you're out in the open plains where you can see it for miles and miles away.

Other parts of the country aren't going to have this type of warning just in the sense of sometimes these tornadoes can be wrapped in rain where you can't see them or maybe you live in a hillier area or maybe forested area where you don't always see it coming.

So we're in that unique situation where we can see this coming from miles and miles away and have a lot of advanced warning. We've been tracking this thing Fredricka for what -- about an hour and a half now?

WHITFIELD: Yes. It's incredible.

So what you're saying just looking at the graphic and then looking live pictures, this mass that we're seeing, that entire mass is actually spinning, perhaps not at the velocity that we're seeing the twisters, but that is what is in part helping to fuel these little tails of twisters that come out of this giant wall cloud?

JERAS: Oh yes. The whole wall cloud itself actually spins and then you get the tornado, (inaudible) the drop zone (ph) out of it. It's certainly a monster storm. It certainly has an incredible amount of destructive potential with this thing as well.

This is Garfield County. If you live in Noble County by the way, which is just one county adjacent, be aware that we could very well see the warning extended into your neighborhood.

This is also not too far west of I-35 to put it in this perspective. It's about 50 miles maybe north-northwest of Oklahoma City and just few miles east of I35. There you can see our Google Earth map. There's Hennessey. That's where this thing really started where we saw the conception of this live event. When do you ever see that Fredricka? WHITFIELD: Never.

JERAS: This is a really rare thing.

WHITFIELD: I've never seen it like this.

JERAS: I've never seen a tornado that we've been tracking for this long with so many different changes and to see it developing, going on the ground and cause damage and come back up and get another and another and another. We're talking number four here. So really an incredible, incredible storm and an incredible situation that we have the ability to be able to show you on live television.

WHITFIELD: And of those four, Jacqui, that we've seen, we were able to show live on television and of course we have it on tape the destruction caused by at least one of those twisters hitting that hog farm there near Hennessey.

JERAS: There it is.

WHITFIELD: There it is right there. Just when you thought it was kind of in the middle of nowhere, then suddenly at the bottom right of your screen you'll see a rather sizable barn there and it just simply wipes it off the map as if it is nothing.

JERAS: Look at that. You see counter clockwise spin. Look at how the debris changes, how the color of the tornado changes. You know, it looks kind of white at first, just water vapors, the only thing making this visible. And as we approach this hog farm here, look at how you start to see some dark colors in there and then you can just see the pieces of debris.

Look at that roof just lift up.

WHITFIELD: Wow, extraordinary. And there really is simply nothing to you can do to try to save whatever it is that you have in that barn when you start seeing funnel clouds like this forming and getting nearby to a structure.

JERAS: Right. You've got to be underground. That's why people who live in Oklahoma have storm shelters underground to escape these things and try and stay safe.

WHITFIELD: Extraordinary. All right Jacqui thanks so much. We know you're continuing to watch the developments there in northern Oklahoma. Again those are taped pictures; right now live pictures of this massive wall cloud that we continue to watch because of the tornadic activity taking place.

Much more of the Newsroom right after this.


WHITFIELD: All right northern Oklahoma in the bull's-eye of this massive wall cloud which has produced at least four tornados that we've been able to see here live on CNN within the past hour and a half or so.

Just take a look at the way it seems to be rotating. Jacqui Jeras from the Severe Weather Center had described earlier how this massive world cloud is actually rotating. And then from that you'll see these tails kind of form and that is of course, the twister, the significant twisters that have been hitting the ground there.

About an hour ago, we saw one of those four twisters actually make contact with a sizable structure. It was a hog farm is what we understand there in Hennessey, Oklahoma. We have taped pictures of the destruction that resulted from that funnel cloud simply making contact with what appears to be a pretty sizable hog farm. We'll try to get that to you in a moment.

Meantime Jacqui Jeras in the Severe Weather Center. Jacqui, while we're watching this wall cloud, it's hard to know exactly when a funnel cloud will form because we're seeing kind of a little breakaway, little tail there at the bottom of that wall cloud but it just seems to happen so instantaneously.

JERAS: There's no way to know. You know the whole thing is rotating so at any time you can see the funnel develop in the middle and then it becomes a tornado where you see it on the ground. So that's the difference between a tornado and funnel cloud and a wall cloud it's that whole big lower self looking kind of thing.

So this is Garfield County. And you know, we're seeing some changes on Doppler radar. I've been looking kind of behind the scenes at the velocity or the changes in the wind to see the direction and the rotation. And we've seen rotation kind of change.

We saw some a little closer to the Douglas area earlier. And now we're seeing it to the south and west of there; this is all still north of Hennessey, where we saw the original thing develop. So we're seeing fluctuations in the storm. It's a little bit less organized than it was before. And we put our impact on here as well.

We call it our tightened impact and basically it will tell you how great the threat of rotation is; so that number 6 -- this is on a scale of one to 10. You know we were seeing 8s and 9s earlier on this thing. And now we're seeing a 6 so it's a little bit lesser but certainly still --

WHITFIELD: And if we can go back to that live picture real quick Jacqui because I wonder if that's what's forming right here in the middle there starting out as that funnel, broad funnel before just miraculously it just seems to reach all the way down to the ground.

As we look at that maybe we can have a split screen here and perhaps Jacqui we can see how it all unfolded about an hour ago when we watched some of those first few funnel clouds begin to take shape and hit the ground. Looks like we'll stay live on the picture to see what the funnel cloud does.

JERAS: Yes but one of the things you want --

WHITFIELD: If it will take the formation that we saw the others do.

JERAS: Sure, well, one of things you want to watch for, Fredricka, you see the low hangers down there and you can see, if you look real closely, and may just take a look at one part of that wall cloud, you'll see how that part, that whole larger rotation is taking place.

But if you look at maybe some of that lowering that we're seeing right there what appears to be a funnel developing in the middle, what you want to watch for to see if that rotation is kind of going along with that whole huge main flow or if you're seeing a tighter circulation there.

So that's one of things that you'd be watching for to see if we're going to get a tornado develop and drop down. Sometimes you're at the perspective where you don't have a good look at it and certainly you don't want to be too close to this, by the way, either.

Speaking of spotting, we have the whole storm spotter network out there tracking these things. These are trained people. So we don't want the public going out and looking at the thing. But once it has passed, feel free to take your I-reports if you see any of the damage from these storms too. Of course, safety is always the number one issue on this holiday weekend.

WHITFIELD: Absolutely and to the right of the screen, kind of almost out of frame, you can see what appears to be some pretty heavy downpours also associated with this giant wall cloud, right?

JERAS: Oh yes. You can kind of see that on the right hand of your screen. It's not the greatest perspective -- the shot that we're seeing right there -- but that will be what we call the rain shaft. So that's where all the heavy rain is coming down.

You always hear people say, you get the heavy rain then the hail then you get the tornado. You always talk about that calm before the storm.

WHITFIELD: All right, we're going to continue to watch what appears to be that activity in the center of your screen, seemingly a couple of formations; maybe even trying to take shape there, Jacqui. I know you're going to continue to watch them, let us know when you see something pretty significant there.