I have lived in Tulsa almost all of my life and I have never seen a tornado.
I have seen the aftermath of tornados in Tulsa, Catoosa, Bixby, Moore, Shawnee and other places around Oklahoma. A couple of weeks after the horrific tornado in Joplin, my wife and I drove through the devastation.
I believe a tornado went over my car one time when I was driving to Tulsa from Bartlesville on U.S. 75. I remember when the “Mighty Mingo” rose from its banks and flooded East Tulsa and a similar situation when the Arkansas River engulfed Brookside.
In my travels around the country, people have sometimes asked how I can live in Tornado Alley, where killer tornados seem commonplace.
I just shake my head.
Tornados occur all over the United States, just with more frequency in our part of the country. And frankly, most of the tornados that touch down in Oklahoma are in agricultural areas with scant damage.
I was in Norman with my daughter when the last big tornado hit Moore in 2013. It was terrible. She was taking a placement test at OU when she called me to say Norman was under a tornado warning and that a really big storm was bearing down on us. I went to the building where she was on campus and we stayed in a safe room while watching aerial coverage on the Internet.
We have the best weathermen in the world in Oklahoma. The National Severe Weather Service is located in Norman and they have cutting edge technology plus some of the most experienced and brightest weathermen around.
The Moore tornado killed 24 people and injured 212 more. Without the warning system we have, hundreds could have perished in that storm. It might not have been a EF5 intensity storm but it was at least an EF4.
The Oklahoma Insurance Department estimated more than $1 billion in damage from that storm. Some meteorologists think the energy from that storm could have been 600 times greater than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima during World War II.
After the storm passed, we drove home through Shawnee because the roads in Moore were blocked. A tornado had hit parts of Shawnee the day before and we witnessed the damage there.
We think 161 people died in the 2011 tornado in Joplin. The three-quarters-of-a-mile wide tornado destroyed 8,400 houses, 18,000 cars and 450 businesses plus the city’s regional medical center.
As I sat in my living room watching coverage of the tornado that hit North Tulsa on March 30, I was struck by the pinpoint accuracy of where the tornado touched down.
We don’t have a storm shelter but we retreat to a bathroom in the interior of our home when the tornado sirens go off. They didn’t on March 30.
If a situation arose like what happened in Moore, I am not sure what we would do. Our house wouldn’t stand up to an EF4 or EF5. In Norman during the Moore tornado, they were telling people to “get underground or run.”
But even with the horrors of tornados, Oklahoma is not subject to the horrific natural disasters in other parts of the country.
California has drought followed by torrential rains and mudslides. While Oklahoma is having a flurry of small earthquakes, California is due for a giant earthquake. In Alaska, the earthquakes have been so bad they actually swallowed a whole neighborhood in Anchorage.
The Gulf Coast states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana plus Texas are subject to hurricanes that do much more widespread devastation that most tornados.
When you drive through some coastal cities in Florida, you see street signs labeled “Evacuation Route.” Much of New Orleans was built under sea level and subject to horrendous flooding.
I won’t even mention the alligators and lightning strikes in Florida. (By the way, I love visiting Florida. It is a fascinating state with wonderful people – including my in-laws.)
Recently, Kansas suffered its worst wildfire in history – one that began in Northern Oklahoma. Last year, the Northeast had record snowfalls that brought life to a standstill for days if not weeks.
In 1980, I went to Seattle while it still hds ashes on the streets from the eruption of Mount Saint Helen. Earlier this year, the Mississippi River came out of its banks and did a whole lot of damage – again.
It’s really impossible to find a place to live that is completely safe from natural disasters.
The best approach is to be aware of potential danger and to take steps to prepare for problems. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
We keep extra bottled water, food, flashlights and portable radios in case of disaster.