Tornadoes in Oklahoma and Lucky Me, I was There

Cell phones change everything, including the experience of taking shelter during a tornado.

Last night, while we sat in our storm shelter in Oklahoma City, my husband exchanged texts with his best friend who was a hundred miles away in Sand Springs. His friend was also in a storm shelter.

Okies.

We know tornadoes.

A wave of storms swept through the state yesterday, sending a lot of us into shelters. These weren’t the huge killer tornadoes that come down and stay down for long periods of time, taking out whole communities. They were the hop, skip and jump tornadoes that happen any number of times in this state every single year.

I underestimated these storms from the start. Yesterday was the first day in almost two weeks  that I felt well enough to go out to eat. We went to our fav Mexican food place, where we go every Wednesday. They know us so well that they don’t bother to bring us menus. The waiter already knows what we want.

One of the waiters was twitchy about the incoming storms. He and I had both been watching them on radar on our phones. “I think Tulsa is going to get it,” I told him, “but we’ll be alright.”

So much for me as a weather prophet.

My husband decided to put gas in his car, so, on the way home, he pulled into a gas station around the block from our house. We’d been watching the clouds on the drive home. As we pulled to a stop, I noticed a change. I watched as one of the clouds started to turn; to, as the weather guys say, “rotate.”

“That thing’s starting to spin,” I said.

I think my husband’s view was blocked by a post in front of our car. He glanced up, saw nothing and got out to get the gas.

His view must’ve changed when he was standing beside the car, because a moment later he got back in and started the engine. “I can get gas tomorrow. We need to get home.”

It was a short drive to our house, literally around the corner. But as we turned into the drive, the wind hit, bending over the pear tree in the front yard. That tree had been a poofy cloud of white blossoms. As  we drove into the garage, the wind stripped those blooms, blowing the petals into the garage ahead of us, littering the concrete floor with white.

We got in the shelter, and the rest, as they say, is rock and roll.

This particular tornado hit about six blocks from our house. The damage it did can be repaired and no one was killed. There was another small tornado — or maybe this same one, touching down again, a bit further south of us that tossed around vehicles and shaved off the roofs of houses.

The people of Sand Springs and Tulsa got hit with a stronger tornado that did heavier damage and killed one person.

Tornadoes like these happen several times a year, every year, in Oklahoma. They’re different from the huge tornadoes that come along less often. They certainly can and do kill people. A direct hit from a small tornado will destroy your home and kill you. But their killing power is limited to smaller areas and tends to be somewhat capricious.

These little tornadoes go up and down. They are unpredictable. They can form in minutes and vanish in a second.

That is what we were dealing with last night. The warning on a big tornado can give you enough time to get into shelter. But these smaller tornadoes happen fast.

The weather reports had predicted storms, and we could track the overall storm pattern on radar. But the only specific warning we had last night was when I looked up at that cloud and saw it start to turn. If I hadn’t spent a lifetime looking at these things, I wouldn’t have known what I was seeing.

That’s what makes smaller tornadoes dicey. The local weather people, even with all their tornado spotters and radar, mostly tell you about small tornados shortly after they’ve hit. A small tornado can dip down, flatten your house and go back up, leaving the house across the street covered in debris from your house, with the car that was in the drive tossed aside, but otherwise untouched. Then it can come back down and flatten a whole block two streets down.

The irony here is that the thing can kill you just as dead as one of the big ones like the tornado of May 3, 1999. Thanks to our excellent tornado alert system, I watched on tv as what we call “the May third tornado” formed in Apache Oklahoma. I watched it as it stayed down and plowed 100 miles across the prairie to my neighborhood.

I didn’t watch as it continued on through Del City and back out across the prairie to Stroud. I was too busy ducking.

Big tornadoes usually give more warning than little ones. In fact, little tornadoes don’t give warning at all. They are more survivable, and they do not usually cause the total destruction of whole communities. But they can spin up and drop down in a minute. I mean that literally.

I found a spider in the storm shelter last night, which means it needs de-bugging, and not in the computer sense. I also realized that we need to buy flashlights and put them in there. Also bottled water. And maybe a horn or something we can use to get help if the worst happens and we get trapped because our house has fallen on top the shelter.

After the storm passed, I went into an exhausted, totally washed out mode. It was like the experience sucked all the life out of me.

I didn’t realize it, but I’m still not over the big tornado from two years ago. That one killed a lot of people, destroyed a whole community, took out a hospital and flattened two schools. It killed 8 school children in the process.

The rebuilding hasn’t been completely finished from that tornado. I see foundations with no houses when I drive my Mama around in the afternoons. The hospital will be rebuilt, but it hasn’t been yet. The grieving for lost loved ones is on-going.

I guess that’s why this experience last night left me so tired and dispirited. Also, I’m still not entirely well from this cold/flu thing I’ve had. That may have made it worse. All I know is that I usually take these things matter of factly, but last night I reacted with exhaustion, that, and I’m glad we have that shelter.

Mama was prattling to me later in the evening, and I realized that she had forgotten the entire thing. She had no idea there had even been a storm, much less a tornado. Her dementia had wiped it away.

There are times when forgetting is a blessing.

 


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