Friday, June 3, 2011

Tornado Outbreak

As anyone in the US who has paid even the slightest attention to the news the past week knows, there was an enormous, multi-day tornado outbreak last week over much of the Midwest and South. Unfortunately, I got caught in the middle of it just a few hours after my last post.

When I woke up that morning, I knew there was a good probability of tornadoes. I grew up and currently live in central Oklahoma, where there have been more tornadoes per square mile than anywhere else on the planet. I've witnessed more than I can count, including the strongest tornado ever recorded (the Tri-State tornado of 1925 was probably stronger, but no meteorological data was recorded). The reason I suspected we were in for tornadoes that day is the "feel" of the atmosphere. The air was extremely still and the humidity was oppressive. It's actually a hard phenomena to describe, but anyone who has lived here for more than a couple years knows what you are talking about. It's almost as if the atmosphere is pressing down on you and every breath feels like you're in a steam room.

A quick glace of the morning news confirmed my suspicions. Meteorologists were predicting a tornado outbreak for the afternoon. So, my mother and I made preparations. We collected all of our important papers, valuables, and photos and placed them in the master bathroom, the only completely interior room in our house. We also gathered first aid supplies, just in case, and carriers and leashes for our pets. This is our routine every time an outbreak seems likely. That way, if a tornado does come our way, the only thing we have to worry about grabbing is our pets.

It wasn't until 3 o'clock that thunderstorms began to develop and move in. Around 4 o'clock, a tornado formed about 30 miles southeast of us. I wasn't immediately concerned because tornadoes do not usually stay on the ground that long. But the damn thing kept getting closer and closer. My entire family was watching the meteorologists on the local news and their prediction of the tornado's path. At first, it looked like it was going to pass through the relatively rural area between my town (Moore) and the town just south of us (Norman). Unfortunately, it began to turn to the north. Soon, the projected path went right through my neighborhood. I knew we were in for a direct hit.

Typical of Oklahomans, at this point I went outside with my dad. Because their was so much rain, we actually could not see the tornado as it approached, but the wind began to pick up quickly. We ran back inside the house (much to my mother's relief) and took shelter in the bathroom. And then we waited. For a couple of minutes, it was extremely tense. We knew it was coming. We continued to wait. And wait. And wait.

Nothing happened. I opened the bathroom door so we could better hear the TV we had left on in the living room. It turns out the tornado lifted right after it crossed into the city. The immediate danger was over. Quite reveled, we went outside. Our yard had quite a bit of debris in it, mostly insulation.

Over a week later and I'm still amazed at how lucky we were. That tornado was given an EF 4 rating. If it had stayed on the ground for just 5 more minutes, it would have devastated a densely populated area, including my neighborhood. 

I wish I had some pictures to show, but we never actually saw the tornado from our house. I apologize for taking awhile to write about this. I have spent a good part of the past week helping out friends whose farm was badly damaged by the same tornado.

I'm not exactly sure why this tornado season has been so active and violent. There has been 3 major outbreaks in the past 6 or 7 weeks, not including the tornado-producing storms in Massachusetts 2 days ago. I deeply hope  we won't see another outbreak this year.


  1. So glad you came through okay. I had my trial by tornado last month and they are still talking about it almost every day on our local news. Strange weather we are having lately. We are in a record breaking heat wave right now. Week before last we were having record low highs in the 60s. What next: snow in July?!

  2. Sorry to hear about all these problems in Oklahoma, hoping the best for you and yours.

  3. I've lived in North Texas all my life and have viewed only one tornado (one up in the clouds, not touching the earth). I consider myself fortunate for there have been many tornadoes in and around this area. I have had many friends touched by these hideous twists of nature. Glad you came out OK, seeing that you live in Moore. Where were you in '99?

  4. That sounds pretty scary. I imagine people in your city are still cleaning up. After our major flood over here in January (where we got a bit but came thorugh OK) it's amazing how five months later a lot of the houses in my neighbourhood are still empty - reconstruction is such a slow process and its still going long after everyone else has moved on.

  5. @Doug- We've been having a heat wave too. For most of June, we've had temperatures in the upper 90's and low to mid 100's. We've broken record high temperatures on 5 different days. While these temps are relatively common in Oklahoma, we usually don't see them until late July or early to mid August, not early, or even late, June. Combine that with the fact that we are still in a severe drought, although we have gotten some rain over the past month, it's been extremely miserable. My two cats are mad because I won't let them go outside during the day.

    @Don- In '99 I was living in Moore, OK as well, although not in the house we currently live in. We moved there in the summer of '98. The May 3rd '99 was the first, and worst, tornado I have ever been through. I actually wasn't all that scared, since I didn't know the danger. The house we lived in then was about 3 miles away from where the F5 crossed I-35, which was the closest it got to us (the house I live in now was about 2 miles away and suffered some minor damage). I could see it from our backyard. My mother, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, and cousin all took cover in our interior hallway. My cousin and sister were in a linen closet and my mom put me under a mattress. To me, the tornado sounded like a jet taking off. We got some debris in our yard, but no damage. I didn't have school for a week.

    @Jon- Our clean-up actually went quite quick, since my town is no stranger to tornadoes.

    However, some damage is evident years later. Many of the trees that were damaged by the F5 May 3rd, 1999 tornado still look odd, being bent in strange places and having branches at weird angles. Even worse, on May 8th, 2003, an F4 tornado took an almost identical path through my town, destroying and damaging many of the same buildings. One particular neighborhood was hard hit by both tornadoes, so it now has a reputation of being cursed. Many of the houses are empty and are being to fall into disrepair.