Wednesday, May 03, 2006

May 3rd, seven years later

May 3, 1999, we had a bloody awful tornado outbreak. If I remember right there were seventy-some tornados in Oklahoma that day & evening with several big ones. The one that got the most attention, and still does, is the one that started near Chickasha in southwest OK, came northeast and just about wiped a couple of towns, turned east just south of Oklahoma City, went through Moore, then northeast again through(mainly) Midwest City, continued through a town called Stroud and finally broke up and went away.

One of the things that made it famous was it was the first time the National Weather Service stormchasers were able to get their doppler radar trucks(two of them) in position to get windspeed readings on a F5 tornado. Official reading 319mph. Of course they said there's a seven mph error factor, so it could have been as low as 312 or as high as 326. In any case, it was bad.

My family and acquaintances came through ok. Couple of people I know at work lived in the Midwest City area and took home damage; I and the ex and kids live in the northwest side and it missed us completely. I'd been at the forge most of the day, and in the afternoon I finally stepped back, stretched, got a drink and for the first time that day actually looked at the sky and felt the air. And decided I should put the fire out and turn on something to check the weather. Cut the fire off, put what I could away- some stuff had to cool off- washed up, turned on the tv and got a drink. I came out of the kitchen about ten seconds before the broadcast showed the monster touching down. Wasn't that big at first, but it grew. And grew. I called the kids to make sure they were ready just in case, and watched it progress. One of the things that made this much less lethal than it could have been was the fact that both on the ground and in the air the NWS and at least three tv stations and a radio station or two had chasers following the thing from the time it touched ground almost until it disappeared.

So people could listen to and watch the progress, and head for their holes or in the case of drivers get the hell out of the way. It was heading for southwest OKC when I called a friend who lived down there to make sure she was aware; she was, and getting her closet ready to hide in. Now, a regular closet wasn't going to mean a damn thing to this beast, but seeing as she was already worked up I didn't say that. I did tell her that I didn't think it'd hit her area; big funnels often make a right turn at some point, and I thought it might(my crystal ball was working that day). It skirted about 1.5-2 miles south of her- too damn close, she later told me in as close to profanity as I ever heard her get- and headed for Moore. Note: one of my forecasting aids was the dogs. They were scared to death of severe storms, and either hid or, if you were outside, stuck to your legs and wouldn't move away, but today they were in the middle of the yard playing.

So we watched it move along, video from ground and air both(one news chopper had been following it so long they had to land and refuel) as it got bigger. To give you an idea, at its' widest on the ground it was right at one mile across; on doppler radar the circulation in the storm creating it was six miles across. And the choppers followed it as it went through the cities like a vacuum through a dirt spill on the floor. Block after block of houses became clean foundation slabs surrounded by rubble, and right in the middle of this I got a phone call that I at first thought was a guy from work. Went like this:
"Are you ok?"
me "Yeah, I'm fine"
pause. " I think I got the wrong number. Where are you?"
"I'm northwest OKC"
"What's it doing there?"
"Little wind, little rain, that's about it."
"Well, I'm in Midwest City in the storm cellar with eight neighbors and three dogs, and it sounds like hell outside."
We talked a minute, then he said he had to call the one he'd intended to and hung up.

So it stomped and tore its' way through and left the metro area. Further out, a couple of guys from a radio station were in a hurry to get home; a wind gust blew them into the drainage ditch along the turnpike and both saved their lives and gave them a ringside seat as the thing destroyed the Stroud mall. And then it went away.

We lost some people, only a few; wasn't that long ago there would have been hundreds from a beast like this. Lots of property damage and lots of property destroyed. Bear safe company dealer had a picture he used for quite a while of a foundation swept clean except for the safe standing there; the owner had bolted it down properly and it hadn't budged. But most everything else in the path just went away.

And everybody came out. People looking for neighbors, people for miles around coming to help. People loaded injured in their trucks and took them to the nearest hospital, often on four flat tires from all the metal and glass in the streets. Very little in the way of looting reported, probably because the scum that would think of it realized that if they got caught the least they could expect was a royal ass-kicking.

About two weeks after I had to drive through the area on NE 10th street, and what it looked a lot like was some pictures I've seen of an area after either a major bombing attack or an artillery barrage that walked through; they damn sure couldn't have done any more damage.

Every time I think about this I remember that phone call.

Oh, and there's a severe thunderstorm watch area over most of western OK. It's that time of year.

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