46 years ago tonight, we survived this monster with only minor damage at my parents’ house. Twenty-six fellow citizens lost their lives, though, and I knew one woman that died. I was in the sixth grade, and she made regular visits to my school as a volunteer.
My mother, father and I tried to get to a neighbor’s storm cellar across the street as the storm hit, but the fierce wind actually blew my father back into the house when he attempted to walk out the front door to the south. We took shelter in an interior closet and heard the trademark “train” sound outside as the storm roared over us and blew over our massive maple tree in the back yard, narrowly missing hitting our house. The wooden fence didn’t stand a chance either.
To this day, I have never been as scared as I was that night.
We had no advance warning until the local news folks broke into the Carol Burnett Show right before the storm hit, showing the simple black/white radar with a “hook echo” on it. Shortly afterward, the electricity went off, and we listened to a local radio station for news updates on our battery-powered radio from that point and over the next couple of days. We had no city services until later the next day, a first for me, and it was my first experience in living amid a truly chaotic situation for the first time.
I will never, ever, ever forget that night. Ever.
It’s still hard to think back on it and talk about it even today, and, like my mother, it’s why I am a fierce “weather bird” just about any time during severe weather season. I still miss her calls to make sure we are aware of impending weather, too.
If you do not own a NOAA weather radio, please get one and keep it on over the coming weeks. We nearly always have a weather radio on in our RV when camping, and we generally avoid camping during the months of May and June unless we feel that the weather forecast will work for us just prior to our departure day. That includes forecasted winds, since driving an RV in high winds is not a good plan. We have good friends that encountered high winds on their drive home from their RV trip last week, and it certainly played havoc with their plans, not to mention their nerves.
I’ve also found that following the NWS offices directly on Twitter is a fabulous idea, too. Following the NWS Norman Twitter feed may have saved my life, as well as my nephew’s life, a few years ago on a trip to Oklahoma City when we heeded a early predictive warning about what was likely to come just prior to the tragic El Reno tornado that struck the area where we were a short time later. We saw that massive storm in our rear view mirror after we departed the area earlier than planned, missing it my about an hour.
What are the chances that I would be in two separate locations where massive tornadoes struck in my lifetime anyway? I truly hope there are no more, but living in “Tornado Alley” means the chance is always there.
Please remain “weather aware” during storm season. I’m thankful that we have the opportunity to be informed so much more today than in years gone by.