The Storms

26 May

Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the last week, you have by now heard of the devastating weather that has plagued the US this week.  I am a bit of a stranger to “storm season” since I’m from SW Georgia.  Down there the most exciting weather we have is a drought….and maybe the occasional passing tropical depression from a hurricane.  Other than that it’s hot and muggy for most of the year and the mosquito proudly holds the title of state bird.  It’s a good thing.

However, since moving to Oklahoma last summer I have gotten my fill of natural disasters.  Earthquake?  Check!  Blizzard?  Double check!  Tornado?  Oh, you better believe it.

I live in Norman and work in Moore.  And if you’ve ever met someone from Moore, you know that they take the weather seriously.  On May 3, 1999 the town was devastated by a massive EF-5 tornado.  The date has become synonymous with destruction and fear.  Thus when the weather forecasters early Tuesday morning began comparing that evening’s weather conditions on par with / more explosive than May 3rd of ’99, we were more than a little concerned.  By 3pm the storms had begun to build in the western part of the state and the sky in Moore/Norman had turned a sickly shade of green.  By 5pm massive cells of powerful storms were racing toward the OKC metro area, leaving a trail of destruction and tornadoes in its path. 

My office shut down early to give everyone a chance to get home and hunker down before the storms arrived.  I was a mess on the inside.  I had to keep a straight face for the sake of my children, but deep down inside the swirling sky and blaring sirens were chipping away at my composure. 

As soon as Jordan got home around 5:30PM the weather had kicked up into full gear and we were on alert.  The sirens all over town were constantly calling out their shrill warning of impending danger.  Jordan and I debated on leaving town but by the town we had decided to go it was too late.  Storms had developed all around us and there was nowhere to go.  We would have to stay and ride it out.

The kids were worried over the sight of Jordan and I carrying down pillows, blankets and mattresses from upstairs.  The dogs were rounded up downstairs and their crates brought in from the garage if things got worse.  Jordan stayed upstairs watching the weather report on the TV since it was the only place in the house where we got local channels.  I was stationed downstairs with the children and dogs, hovering over the weather radio listening to the same broadcast that Jordan was watching upstairs.  It was grim. 

Tornadoes were touching down and ripping through the countryside  just to the west of us.  Chickasha, not too far west of us was hit.  Then Newcastle, which was even closer.  Peidmont to the north-west of us was almost leveled by a massive wedge tornado.  People were injured and some even died. 

As this was coming across the airwaves, Gary England was tracking multiple tornadoes that were on projected to hit Norman.  They were unsure about were they would go, but we were definitely on the block for potential damage.  I called family back home in Georgia to alert them of the situation.  I hated to be the newbie, overreacting to the situation, however Joplin was still fresh in my mind.  Just two days before 120+ people had been killed by a tornado.  I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to tell them I loved them if the cool-headedness around me was misplaced. 

Of course my family thought that I was about to die and I was feigning calmness for their sake.  “So…we’re under two tornado warnings and are about to take shelter downstairs…we’ll be perfectly fine.”  They didn’t believe a word I said.  And personally I couldn’t blame them, because I was all kinds of terrified on the inside. 

The next hour was spent poised on the balls of our feet, ready to dash into hiding at a moments notice.  We watched/listened to tornadoes touch down and lift back up all around us.  We held out breath as some would be poised to strike and then would curve in a different direction at the last-minute.  It was exhausting.  I only glanced out the window once and found it hard to see past a few feet.  It was monstrous outside.  By 9pm it seemed as though the worst of the storms were to the east of us and we could finally exhale. 

I called my family back home once more to let them know that we were out of the woods as Jordan lugged the mattresses and blankets back upstairs.  The kids had contented themselves with sandwiches and cartoons during the worst of it and seemed unaware of how dire the night’s events had been.  Besides a few tearful moments at the peak of the storm, they had passed through it unphased.  Thank goodness.

After we tucked the kids in bed and made sure that no new storms had developed in the west, Jordan and I settled into bed to watch the coverage of the damage.  It was amazing in a terrible way.  So many people had lost everything.  They had nothing left be slabs where their homes had once been.  Some people were missing, others had been killed.  The damage path of the tornado that had hit Peidmont was had to process.  It was incredibly wide and long.  I had never imagined a tornado would stay on the ground that long.  It’s path across the countryside was nothing but dirt and leveled homes.  No trees remained, not even grass. 

Work yesterday was draining.  Catastrophes such as these make working in insurance challenging.  I talked to so many on the phone yesterday who were shaken and homeless. One woman had barely survived the storm in her mobile home as it was tossed about.  Her mother was still in the hospital recovering from injuries sustained during the storm.  It was heartbreaking.  What do you say to people in these situations?  How do you ease their suffering?  I truly do not know. 

Now, two days later, people are digging through the rubble and trying to move on.  Some are still missing and some are burying their loved ones.  Tuesday’s storms have given me a more healthy respect/fear of the weather.  I hope that this will be the only storm of the season and that by next spring I’ll be better prepared.

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