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.
God bless and keep YOU safe. You are in our prayers.
OK has been in our prayers. I reviewed tornado safety with my students after the storm and can’t read about the teachers or kids without getting emotional. I’m so glad you’re ok and that there were so many survivors.
Thank you so much. I’m sure the stories of the teachers make you cry. They were heroes that day. So many people were heroes. We are still hearing even more stories about the kindness of friends and strangers.~~Dee
OK has been in our prayers. I reviewed tornado safety with my students after the storm and can’t read about the teachers or kids without getting emotional. I’m so glad you’re ok and that there were so many surivors.
As vast and as devastating as the hurricanes I have experienced have been, I think I would take them any day compared to the assasin that tornadoes are. At least we have days of warning here and we know more or less where they will hit. I feel for everyone touched in OK right now by the recent tornadoes. For you and everyone else to tolerate such risk, it must indeed be a special place.
Oh, I don’t know Les. Hurricanes spawn tornadoes. It’s all relative my friend. We knew for over a week that the conditions were the worsts we’d seen in over two years. So, we get warnings too. They also pinpointed the area which would be in the danger zone. However, once it formed, but it did faster than they usually do. People were caught in its crosshairs. ~~Dee
Dee, I’ve never left you a not before, I think I didn’t even know that you were in OK, but after visiting Margaret Roach’s site, I saw this link. As a weather geek, and also a Tonado survivor ( my home town had 7 tornados two years ago, which is rare in New England, and nothing like what you”ve been through, I can relate as I garden ( and blog) in the same house that my 99 year old father grew up in, and his father built. This home town of ours was devastated by an F4 tornado in the 1950’s, and I was raised to both respect and fear extreme weather. That said, the damage a tornado can do is always on my mind. So whenever I see a community destroyed like Moore, I feel for it. How resilient people are, and how hopeful they can be in the face of tragedy brings me hope. You wrote such a touching post about this terrible event of nature, but you also placed it all in perspective, on how you evaluate home, place and dislocation. I can’t wait to meet you at the Garden Bloggers Fling next month ( I think I am one of only 2 guys going!). My first. Anyway, now I know your fabulous blog! – matt
Hi Matt, I’m so glad you meet you next month too. That trip is going to be fun with all of our blogging friends. Can’t wait. Thank you for all of your dear words. You do understand about tornadoes. They are fearsome beasts sometimes. Ah, you also know about a sense of “place” too. To live in a home handed down to you, must be a fantastic thing. Thank you so much for leaving a note this time. Margaret was kind to link here.~~Dee
Gardener on Sherlock Street
So glad you are safe. Such destruction and sadness for so many; but yes, as a tornado alley dweller, I understand all that you write about. Seen the devastation first hand helping friends recover after other tornadoes. Have a close friend helping her husband’s ex wife’s family (step son impacted) this weekend as they lost their home Sunday night in OK.
Be well, be alert and be the wonderful Oklahoman that you are.
You are in my thoughts and prayers. It’s hard to help cleanup. I’ve done it too. I’m told the people in spots other than Moore could use help these coming days.
We lived in Iowa for a few years and experienced a few little tornadoes but nothing very big. I thought it was scary, though. People in the midwest (I’m thinking of OK here, too, though maybe you consider yourself southern) are the salt of the earth – humble, faith-filled, hard working. I am comforted knowing that those who died are in a better place – heaven really will be wonderful – but it’s those who are left behind to grieve that I feel for. I’m confident that strength and generosity will shine during the days to come and I believe that the Lord can heal things that would otherwise remain broken forever. Glad your family is safe.
Hey VW, we consider ourselves south central in personality, but in weather, who knows? We are smack dab in the middle of the country and dont’ really fit in anywhere. Yes, I believe those who are left behind are the ones who suffer, and I also trust in the Lord. Thank you so much!
A wonderful, thoughtful post, Dee. I could feel your pain as you posted updates on Facebook the day of the Moore tornado. The images on TV of the devastation and the reports of lives lost were horrific and heartbreaking. Yet the aftermath–hearing the stories of heroes and the generosity of those offering help–provides comfort in the face of all this tragedy.
Thank you for understanding Rose. I was very, very upset that day. I still am, but I’m better knowing it’s over. Oklahomans are resilient folk.
Thank you for the beautiful post. Having lived in Moore for 30+ years, I have lived through many tornadoes, but this one terrified me. The sound was unreal and went on forever.
The outpouring of help has been amazing. Hundreds of people are showing up just to pick up debris in our cemetery and along the streets. The police, firemen, utility workers, first responders and heroic teachers have worked tirelessly to save lives and give us hope.
Hello Sue, I am keeping all of your in my prayers. I watched that video of the man filming the entire progress of the tornado from his shelter, and it was a large and slow beast. I’m so sorry you all had to endure it. Many blessings coming your way.
Such a wonderful post. I haven’t watched any news, just heard it on the radio, and your ‘report’ is far and away the best. Thank you. There was a guy on the radio who talked about why we stay in the face of tornadoes or hurricanes or (in my case) strong winter storms, and it is because of home. The home place is paramount to most of us.
I was thinking about you during this, and am so glad you and yours are fine, and that you wrote.
Thank you Nan. Yes, home is everything, and by that, I mean our families most of all.
Teresa / A Garden Diary
I now know Oklahoma and her people much better. Thank you for a touching tribute. I can see why being there is worth it. Blessing to you and your friends and family.
Hi Teresa, there is that line in the Hoyt Axton song, “Well, I’ve never been to heaven, but I’ve been to Oklahoma.” 🙂 It always makes me smile when I think of it. Your words brought it back to me. Thank you.
Donna@Gardens Eye View
The Moore tornado rocked me to my core for 2 reasons…one is I am a teacher/administrator and anytime a tragedy hits a school where innocent lives are lost is just unbearable. Second, I lived my elementary school years in N Indiana in the heart of tornadoes…we had a shelter in our basement we had to use many times…the dads in the neighborhood would watch the skies during a watch and warning…of course in the early 60s the weather equipment and forecasting was nothing then. We were lucky but just by the skin of our teeth sometimes….but my worst memories were when the sirens went off when we were in school…there was no where to go but the huge coat closets against the cinder block…we knew if a tornado hit we were in trouble…luckily we escaped a few times…so this tragedy brought back those awful frightful times…my heart goes out to all the victims…you just can’t understand until you are in a tornado area…on another note that severe weather headed our way to CNY and we had such severe weather there were a few tornado warnings…boy I hate those but I am very good about watching the skies…I never lost that skill.
Oh Donna, I’m so sorry. I think this tornado affected so many everywhere with the sweet children and loss of life. Twenty-four souls is a lot, and so many injured. We must hold onto our loved ones along with our hopes and dreams. Know that I am hugging you from the Sooner State and thank you.~~Dee
Thank you for such a poignant essay, Dee. Your honesty and vulnerability are a gift to those who love you; it’s a privilege to experience Oklahoma through your eyes and heart.
with love, Debra
Thank you and love you too, Debra.
Helen at Toronto Gardens
I can’t imagine what it would be like to live with that kind of threat. Carol is right – this is an excellent piece that deserves to be widely read.
Thank you Helen. We’re fortunate the threat isn’t throughout the year, mostly in spring when conditions are just “right.”
Very nicely said, Dee. Having grown up in Miami I knew the uncertainty of hurricanes and sometimes tornadoes. We lost a dear family friend in Andrew. Folks in different parts of the country face very different and sobering challenges. It was enlightening to see the view from your perch.
Thank you Lynn, and I’m sorry about your friend.
You are right about the ‘why do you live there?’ question. Often I find myself thinking-thoughtlessly ‘why don’t they (whichever ‘they’ is in question at the time) move?’ Then I wonder where I would go if there were danger here. No-idea. The furthest I’ve got in my thoughts is the top of the hill in a flood. Beyond that . . . When I think of danger, I think of the sea. Not only is it our danger but its loveliness is a barrier. If ever we needed to flee the country – we simply couldn’t. We are where we are. There is rarely ‘somewhere else’ for us. And, unless we hate the place deeply (which few of us do or else why would we be there/here?) where would we go? We belong.
So glad, so very, very glad you and your family are ok. And impressed too that you can offer such a positive post – despite everything.
Thank you Esther. It’s a sobering thought when we consider what we’d do in the face of this emergency or that. It’s good to have some type of plan and then tweak it based upon more information. I thought about the sea a lot when we were vacationing in the Outer Banks. They had all of these highways to the mainland and tips for hurricanes. It made me think. Hugs.~~Dee
Annie Haven | Authentic Haven Brand
Beautifully written Dee, my heart aches and I send my prayers to all affected Hugs Annie
Thank you so much Annie. We need prayers and hugs. It’s been a rotten week.
Oh Dee, I’m so happy to hear that everything is alright, and that your family is safe. It’s really sad seeing what is going on over there right now [the lady w/ her dog in the rubbish? broke my heart.]
Although The power of the human spirit is really humbling…
I’ve already donated what I can to help out the citizens of Moore. It’ll take awhile, but people are strong.
And studying weather sounds like a lot of fun. 😀
Lovely sharing, Dee. So glad you and your family are safe. Sad as this is, it’s inspiring to see folks in Oklahoma pull together. Blessings. xoxo
Thank you Kathryn. We are a hardy bunch.
I have been so eager for you to post because nobody says it better. You have been in my prayers along with my Guthrie daughter and all our other relatives in the OKC area. Monday evening our area was also hit around 6:30 PM and fifteen homes were damaged four miles east of us. We live on the North side of Grand Lake. It seems every Oklahoman has hero tendencies, jumping into the fray to serve as rescuers of some sort. I have lived in this State almost all of my life and plan to stay, tornadoes or not.
Oh Annie! Thank you. I am honored. I’m so sorry your area was also hit by the storms. I heard somewhere that there were many tornadoes on both nights. I hope everyone is safe, and all homes are soon repaired. I don’t think I could ever move from my beloved state no matter how much I love Hawaii. Ha!
I was born and raised in CA. Earthquake drills were standard in our school and I have been nearby during three major quakes. There is NO warning for them and it is quite startling to feel the ground shake with such force. Quakes also do tremendous damage. Every state has its own natural disasters- tornadoes, fires, floods, hurricanes, avalanches. It is what we do in between the disasters that counts! I love my adopted state and have no plans to leave.
Hey Mary, yeah, after feeling an earthquake a time or two the last couple of years, I find them weird and frightening too. I’m glad we be in Oklahoma. It is what we do together between those times that counts. Hugs.
what a wonderful statement . . . what we do in between disasters that counts . . . i may quote you.
An eloquent and truthful post. I am glad to hear your family is fine as is mine in Edmond. I count Gary England right up there with Wally Kinnan, The Weatherman (if you lived in OK in the ’50s you would know) and Harold Taft of Dallas as the best ever meteorologists.
The folks of my home state are amazingly resilient. So much generosity! All sorts of groups and folks opening up places for people to stay, eye doctors helping replace glasses/contacts, pharmaceutical companies replacing meds, veterinarians treating injured animals, shelters set up for lost pets, places set up to collect found documents/pictures, Facebook friends posting pictures of unaccounted for children, and I could go on and on. The people of the red dirt state have overcome disasters before and they will survive this one. I love you, Oklahoma!
Hi Ann, Wally Kinnan is a bit before my time, but he sounds fab. Gary England helped development much of the weather systems we still use today, and I’ll never forget when he was hanging out the window at News 9 reporting as a tornado went by. I thank God for our meteorologists. When you see the devastation of Moore, you realize it could’ve been so much worse. That’s not to discount the lives that were lost.
Oklahoma is a strong state. We will make it through this one too.
Eloquently written, dear Dee. A thief, yes, that is what those tornadoes are, stealing lives in every way possible. But I am so very proud to be from Oklahoma, even though we no longer live there.
Yes, I thought about it snuck up into the clouds and disappeared. Tornadoes are terrible beasts.
Dee, The news from Oklahoma is overwhelming. It is just hard to take in the amount of destruction caused by this tornado. Home is where the heart is and you are a true Oklahoman. With such a short warning, I do hope more shelters are built to provide respite from storms. You seem well prepared and ever diligent. You are a seasoned storm fighter.
Layanee, I haven’t seen the national news, but the local news has focused much on recovery and helping people find what they need from the Red Cross and Salvation Army among other volunteer agencies. I hope the state passes a law requiring all new construction have shelters. A lot of people did because much of this same area of Moore was hit by the 1999 tornado. When people rebuilt their homes, they also installed shelters. If not, this would be an even worse tragedy. Thanks for the love.
Thanks for your affirming and powerful post, Dee. You have revealed a strong State with determined, good folk. Carry on, carry on…
Thank you Saxon so much.
What an amazing writer you are! I’m glad to hear you and your loved ones are safe, as are mine. A couple lost homes, but are grateful that was all they lost.
Thank you Tracey. I’m so glad that their homes were all they lost. Please let us know if they need extra help. People are hoping to help.
Lorene edwards Forkner
Dee, your beautiful grasp of language and compassion is redeeming. Big love. L
Thank you Lorene.
A beautiful post, Dee. I’m so thankful you all are safe, and I’m amazed at the courage and incredible spirit of your friends and neighbors. I’m a blubbering emotional mess watching CNN, and yet the people affected by the storm are handling the trauma with such fortitude and grace. Thinking of you all.
Thank you Julie. It’s been a long week of heartache for the entire country. Hugs from Oklahoma.
Dee, this is one of the best comments on being a Okie and why we love our state. Thanks so much.
Thank you Bonna.
Thank you for a beautiful post. I live in Tulsa but have family in Shawnee…our hearts are with you!
Hi Barbie, I hope your family weathered the storm with little damage. I also hope Shawnee and the other towns get more help soon.
Thank you so much for posting this update, Dee. It’s natural for gardeners to be obsessed with weather, but it’s not so much of a life-or-death matter for most of us as it is for you. We hope that the rest of this season is kinder to your area.
Thank you Nan. Most days are pretty wonderful here. Blue skies abound today.
Don’t post…..just wanted to say…Good Job.
Been thinking about you all week, Dee. This was lovely and really put things in perspective for a non OK resident. My Mom said she thought it was weird that I looked at the weather all of the time, but because I like to be out on the water every day, I watch the weather obsessively. Then, when I’m out there, I watch the clouds and the wind. I can feel when the day heats up and the wind shifts to the south. I can look at clouds and see where they part and split and open up and hold their fire. I feel sad for the people who are disconnected from what goes on outside, even when what goes on outside is terrifying. Because most of the time, it’s what’s happening out there that’s beautiful.
Katie, being connected to nature is one of the great blessings of life. We gardeners know that, and I just wish others did too.
I am touched by your words, Dee. A wonderful essay, it deserves to be on the front page of the paper, across the country.
Thank you Carol. I am grateful for your kind words.
Kathy from Cold Climate Gardening
I didn’t realize how much importance Oklahoma places on weather education. Up in the north, we learn to be as savvy about snowstorms as you all are about tornadoes. Every location has its challenges.
Kathy, I bet you do. In the last few years, we’ve had a lot of snow, and we didn’t quite know what to do with it. Y’all could’ve taught us a thing or two.
All our hearts are breaking over Oklahoma’s losses. I am glad to hear that you and yours are fine. And I read with such interest all the information about the weather that I did not know. I can certainly understand the pride for one’s state. It’s also good to know that people are so aware, and that the weather service has such technology.
Thank you dear. It’s been a difficult week for the entire country. Life is so fragile. Tornadoes are a huge part of our emotional landscape too. The tech has grown so wonderful. You wouldn’t believe what we once had. A chalkboard comes to mind.
The people of Oklahoma have shown themselves to be strong in the face of a terrible tragedy. Please know that everybody in the USA is praying you.
Oklahoma is OK!!!!
Kay, I will. Thank you so much.
So well written and my eyes are tearing up at the thought of your pain for the well being of your state, my dear friend. One cannot discount the power of prayer of the whole community of the United States as we lift up Oklahoma for healing and renewal. Oklahoma Strong, Dee.
Patrick, you are such a true friend. Thank you and everyone in the U.S. so much for your prayers for our state. We feel them. We really do.