News of the deadly tornado that killed more than 51 in Moore, Okla., Monday brought back memories of another painful episode in the book of Oklahoma living.
Before moving to the St. Louis area, my family called Norman, Okla., home. Having grown up in the Sooner State before traveling the world as an Air Force couple, my wife and I knew — or thought we knew — what to expect. We did not, however, expect what took place one evening 14 years ago.
Like most of our neighbors in northwest Norman, we lived in a typical three-bedroom home that did not have a basement or a safe room. It may seem strange, but few homes in the state (a.k.a., “tornado alley”) had such amenities. Everyone with a television set, however, did have legendary local weatherman Gary England.
On that memorable evening, I paid close attention to England’s reporting on dangerous storms traversing the state from the southwest to the northeast. When he told television viewers to seek shelter underground immediately or face certain death, I made a critical decision; for the first time since moving to Norman three years earlier, I drove my wife and three young sons to an underground public shelter at a nearby elementary school.
Though the powerful F-5 tornado did not hit our home, it left a mile-wide path of destruction just a few miles north in Moore while packing the strongest surface winds ever recorded on earth — more than 200 miles per hour.
Television news reports during the days that followed featured video footage showing the tornado’s path stretching for miles and resembling what a giant vacuum cleaner might leave behind (i.e., nothing that resembled the homes and businesses that had been in the path of the tornado moments earlier).
All of that took place on May 3, 1999. I’ll never forget it.
Today, my heart goes out to those impacted by the storms that hit central Oklahoma this week.
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