Monday, April 07, 2008

Tornadoes In Oklahoma

Every so often I'm reminded that Oklahoma really is a place "where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain." A few days ago, most everyone else got a little reminder too. Yes, we had a tornado in the area, but my house and town are safe. Unfortunately others weren't so lucky. Thanks to everyone, but especially dear Suzanne and Bindi, for their concern and generosity.

An old Army buddy of mine lives in a house not far from this one. For him everything is fine now - now that a few days have passed, the roads have reopened, and visits have been made to the hardware and lumber stores.

One of the things about Oklahoma that you really should know is that we are a small state. You're only one or two degrees of separation from almost everyone in the state. That means if something happens, it happens to us all. Community. This is the best part of living here.

Tornadoes are also a part of living here. This latest one is said to have been an F1. Though at the lowest end of the Fujita scale, it did come at night, when most people were sleeping. Fortunately we have the very best weather radars and meteorologists in the country, so plenty of advanced warning was given and no lives were lost in this storm. There was a good deal of damage because the storm crossed into the metro area.

I live in Norman, Oklahoma, at the opposite end of the metro from where this storm struck. Norman is the home of the University of Oklahoma, a National Weather Service Forecast Office, and the NOAA's National Severe Storms Laboratory. We have an extraordinary collection of French Impressionist art in the Fred Jones Museum of Art at the University. We also have a first rate Natural History Museum. Other than that, Norman is a fairly ordinary town. Some call it the most boring town in America.

Others would disagree. Tourists come here from all over the world to go on storm chasing tours that let these thrill-seekers locate and "chase" a tornado-producing super-cell thunderstorm. It is very dangerous to confront tornadoes, and these folks are willing to pay $300 a day or more for the chance to see one of Mother Nature's most destructive forces up close and personal.

Me? Nope. I've seen my share of tornadoes already. From the great May 3rd, 1999, twister that had the fastest winds ever recorded on planet Earth (318 mph) to some up and down F1s that did touch and go landings on the empty prarie, I've been there, sees that and don't want to do it again.

No, in all my expereince with storms, I think I'm typical. I've only had to hunker down and let a storm blow over me twice. The first time happened when I was about 12 years old. It was night and the tornado was wrapped in rain. The television said to take shelter because the tornado had been seen coming in our direction. The house had a basement, but you had to get into the basement from doors on the outside of the house. The rain mixed with hail when we were running to the basement. It stung when it hit your body. The tornado was so close that you could hear the storm through the rain. It sounded like moaning. It came very close. In flashes of lightning we could see it through the windows in the basement. It did a lot of damage to a neighbor's house, but ours was spared. Some cows were killed and a horse was lost. It was never found again.

The next time my wife and I were students at the University. We were living in the Parkview Apartments on campus. These apartments had no designated storm shelter, so when the storm came, you had to get into the bathtub, pull a mattress over you, and hope for the best. It was a small tornado that came up from the south through a small town called Noble. I could hear the sirens in Noble going off, but ours in Norman were sounding. A neighbor from China called me and asked what he should do. I told him how to shelter his family and that the storm would sound like a train on the railroad. The police drove by then announcing on the loudspeaker that the sirens were broken and that everyone should seek cover immediately because the storm was very close. The tornado lifted right as it touched the Norman city limits. Everyone came out of their cover, except the Chinese family living next to me. From that direction I heard two things at almost simultaneously - blood curdling screams and the air horns of the southbound 5:40 ATSF freight train.

When the tornado watches come, most people will get a beer, go out on the front porch and look for the storm. It's a social thing, so if you're not from around here, you probably not going to understand. When a tornado warning comes, it's time to move to shelter. It's that easy.

In addition to super charged Doppler weather radars and science out the wazzoo, we also have a protective Native American legend that says Norman will never be hit by a tornado. Apparently the city is on some holy ground that was considered safe enough from tornadoes to hold tribal meetings and that sort of thing. Some say that there has never a tornado that touched down in the Norman city limits, but that's not entirely true - but close enough for government work and legend.

Suzanne, I love you to pieces and thank you for your concern, but don't worry about me one little bit. I'll be fine. With the kind of advance warning these weathermen can provide if a tornado ever does come close, I live close enough to the interstate to be miles away by the time trouble comes.


Suzanne said...

Hi honey. We'll have to exchange emails or phone numbers. I was SO worried. I've been through two horrible earthquakes. One in San Francisco and one in L.A. In San Francisco our building was on the news crumbled around us. It was a historic brick building and we were all in the vault trying to survive. We did. In L.A. Rob and I were in bed on the 24th floor of a high rise luxury condo when the feight train came barreling though. You think you're going to die, but you don't. You never forget that sort of terror. Never. I insisted we move. I'd had enough. So we moved back to the San Francisco/Bay Area!!! Now we're finally safe in Carmichael.

I'm so grateful you're okay. Cecile and her family had a terrifying night in the basement of a neighbor (she's in Arkansas). the news never indicated anything about Arkansas, so when I got a call from Cecile, I wasn't surprised because I thought, well how can it be that big and just hit Oklahoma? Yikes. I was right. Those of us who have been through a natural disaster know what it is to be scared to death. I'm so grateful you and your family are okay and that Oklahoma is still a state. What a wonderful post. Thank you for writing so beautifully about your experience. I love coming here. It's a comfort. Honey, how's the bird, the tree and the squirrel?

Love you too. Glad you're okay.

XO Suze

p.s. Just went to word verification. Guess what it is? lcove. I believe that's love! Love you.

Suzanne said...

Sweetie, when you have some time go to Cecile's and read her version and I'll tell her to read yours. You'll enjoy one another.

NouveauBlogger said...

Hey, I've been known to grab a cold one and sit on the porch watching a storm go by too! Fortunately, CT has only had one tornado in which there was a loss of life (I believe) in my lifetime.

Glad things worked out for you, of course :)

Maria said...

I live in Nebraska, so yeah...tornadoes are always in the Spring news.

I'm glad you are okay.

Ron Simpson said...

Having been to other states while they had active tornadoes, I can honestly say, OK has the best weather guys around. The Dallas people and MO people plain sucked during tornado season.

CIELO said...

So good to hear YOU are ok.... there is no perfect place on this earth, is it?



Leah said...

Wow, that is incredible. Thrilling and scary. I remember my best friend growing up would visit her grandparents in the midwest every summer and come home with tales of sitting on the porch watching for tornados, and sometimes even seeing them in the distance. We can hardly even see the sky here in Brooklyn, let alone the weather...I'm glad everything is good on your end!


Mrs4444 said...

Very interesting post! My husband and I have always been storm lovers (sounds sick, doesn't it?) and we've raised our kids to love thunder and lightening. Come to think of it, even the dog has followed suit! Glad to know you are safe and sound...

Eva said...

So glad you're safe! But what an interesting account of life in Oklahoma. I've always been curious to know what it's like in tornado country. I've been in California most of my life, so earthquakes are all I know. No warning for them - just preparation!

TerriRainer said...

I am told that I am paranoid (I saw the May 3rd tornado up close and personal).

I like to call myself "weather aware", however.

I do agree about our meteorologists. They are the BEST!

Have you seen the Gary England Drinking Game??? It's GREAT...I'll have to post it, although if you don't live here, you'll NEVER understand it.


bindhiya said...

Dear Skeeter,
yes, we were worried about you!
Am glad to hear you are OK! Please try to swap numbers so we can reach!
tornadoes seems i know why my hubby stay up all night :))
talk to you soon..
this week is so busy for me.. but i will check back as soon as I can..
♥ & ((hugs))