Two days after the storm, I feel like I can write without crying. First, for those of you who don’t use Twitter or Facebook, we are fine. The entire extended family is great, and none of us were hurt in the recent tornadoes. We don’t live in Moore. We do live between Edmond and Carney which were both hit by smaller tornadoes on Sunday night. So was Shawnee. Last Sunday and Monday were full of tornado outbreaks, but the Moore tornado, with its EF-5 fury, has been on the news 24/7. As it should be. A two-mile wide debris cloud took out the center of Moore, a southern Oklahoma City suburb. Twenty-four people died. Ten of them were children.
As I write that sentence, I cry. I have children. I have friends who are teachers. Teachers were true heroes as they covered their charges with their bodies. I’m told one teacher is in the hospital in serious condition. My husband knows the grandmother of the baby who died with his mother. She tried to protect him by taking shelter in the freezer at a 7-Eleven convenience store. Everyone I know is touched by these disasters. Dozens of people were injured. Oklahoma is a small place. It is a faith-filled and close-knit community of really kind and generous people.
It is this generosity that will save us.
As soon as the tornado thundered overhead and swirled off eastward, finally disappearing into gray clouds like a thief, dazed neighbors crawled out of their storm shelters and began helping neighbors. Those close enough rushed to the scene and carted the injured to hospitals when there weren’t enough ambulances to hold them. Others tethered and led injured horses from two local farms in the area. Many carried frightened dogs and looked for their owners. Local journalists who were part of the community managed to do their jobs and help rescue people from the rubble. Angels abounded that night.
Spring in Oklahoma and much of the central U.S. is a time for watching the skies. Oklahoma has the best weather forecasting system in the U.S. I’ll stand it up next to anyone’s. A National Weather Forecasting office is located in Norman, and great meteorologists are trained nearby. The Moore tornado should have killed even more people, but the meteorologists on the three local channels saved many lives on Sunday and Monday. They told us for a week that conditions were ripe for a supercell, the most dangerous of weather events. Oklahomans may joke about watching weather forecasts as sport–including a popular drinking game–but it’s a bit like laughing at the Devil. We take this stuff seriously when time matters. This storm came up fast, faster than they usually do. It’s estimated people had sixteen minutes to get to safety. I know it’s true because my daughter, Megan, was driving to work in Norman, which is just south of Moore. She called on her cell phone, said the clouds “looked funny” and asked if I’d heard any warnings. I checked the online radar, and it only showed a thunderstorm. Oklahomans are well versed in hook echoes, and there simply wasn’t one. We hung up, and she drove closer. As soon as I clicked off, my 4Warn weather app chirped. “A tornado warning was imminent.” I stared at it for a moment and wondered what that meant. Usually, we don’t get a text until the National Weather Service issues a warning. I checked the radar, and my app chirped again with additional warnings. There it was. The dreaded hook echo had developed. I called Megan, and she said her boss had already called her saying turn around. Thank God she did.
No one realizes the amount of work that goes into forecasting and providing up-to-the-minute information during these events. Storm spotters position themselves along the dry line early in the day. In teams of two or three, they race around these storms like angry wasps relaying on-the-ground information to meteorologists in the newsrooms. Technology has advanced to the point that we can tell where a tornado outbreak is street-by-street. I’m serious. Much of current technology was developed in Oklahoma. When Mike Morgan, Emily Sutton, Gary England or David Payne tell me to get underground, I gather my family and go as fast as I can to our basement. I feel for those who had no choice but to stay above ground on May 20, 2013.
Weather schools are held throughout the state in classrooms where information is given to students and teachers. KWTV 9 recently explained about the Gentner, a device used for communication with those field spotters. KFOR had a week-long schooling event on their station after the news. They explained weather details like dry lines, hook echoes, the Fujita scale, supercells, etc. I loved it. As a garden writer, I’m a weather junky anyway, and tornadoes have been part of my life for as long as I can remember.
I’ve been asked by several people this week why anyone would choose to live here. I don’t quite know what to say. You might as well ask an Inuit–Yupik why she lives near snow. We live here because we truly “love our land.” We are fiercely proud of our state, once carved out of the prairie, and now growing leaps and bounds.
A generous and friendly spirit defines us as a community, not the disasters we’ve endured. Oh, yes, we’ve seen more than our share of catastrophe. Everyone older than eighteen remembers where they were on April 19, 1995, when the Murrah Building was bombed. First Responders developed better communication and disaster response times in its aftermath. We also learned how to deal with tragedy no one should have to bear. Later, these procedures were described as “The Oklahoma Standard” and used by other states, which refined them in their own disasters. We’ve faced wildfires in recent years–drought and horrible heat in 2011. We’ve also stared down a lot of tornadoes since, and Moore knows this better than anywhere for they were dealt a similar blow in May of 1999.
Bad things happen. Our hearts may break, but it is our courage and spirit in the face of these challenges that matters. We matter. May God bless Oklahoma.