Having lived in Oklahoma my whole life, I am quite familiar with a chance of spring storms and the occasional tornado. Oklahoma has definitely had their share. I myself have been blessed to never have had to live through the experience of such a taste of the fury that Mother Nature can give. As far back as I can remember, I have memories of being woken up in the middle of the night and rushed off to sleep the rest of the evening in the cellar while living on the farm. Back in those times the only warning one had was the flash of lightning in the sky allowing you to see the formation of the clouds. Also another sign was the eerie silence that came before all hell broke loose. Time passed and with it came new technology to help forecast the occurrence of such activity in a timelier manner. Although out our back door sits our trusty cellar, it is not used as often as in years past.
Last weekend an outbreak of tornadoes occurred over the southern states with Mississippi getting hit the hardest. The same front had passed through Oklahoma days earlier only bringing colder weather and rain. Yet when it reached further east it was not as kind. The tornado that meandered its way across a 250 mile path was said to be 1.75 miles in diameter at times. It drove a line of devastation for over 10 hours. In the end countless homes were destroyed, 10 people (including 3 children) were killed, and countless lives were changed forever.
Winds of 170 mph ripped through anything that lay in its pathway. The magnitude of the tornado was set at a F4 being only outdone by that of the F5. Some years back such a tornado traveled across Oklahoma. I remember it well even though I was not necessarily in its path. It tracked across the state for what seemed like an eternity; leaving the same path of destruction as did the tornadoes last weekend. It was categorized as the ominous F5. Lives were lost (44 in total), property destroyed and lives likewise changed. The strength was so strong in one of the strongest hit areas that the pavement itself was ripped from the ground. Trees were mangled to look like they were twigs whose tops had been twisted off. Metal from cars and other unidentified objects was intricately twisted in the fence that lined the highway. In some areas there was completely nothing left, not even debris. It was as if all evidence of anything was taken completely away.
I remember when I visited the area hardest hit to see the devastation for myself. The sheer power of the storm amazed me. The manner of it’s pick and choose method also baffled me. In one area where the pavement was no more as well as anything else, just a few hundred yards over sat a nursing home which had not been touched. It stood as if only a good thunderstorm had passed. In choosing as it had, so many lives were spared that day.
One of the hardest hit areas was a small community not far from where I live today. Bridgeport was almost completely destroyed by the storm. One of the smallest survivors was a little girl maybe 2 or 3. She had been lifted up from the storm and blown miles away. A highway patrol found her and at first thought she was a doll yet upon further examination realized it was a child. The video always brings tears to my eyes at the terror so evident in her as she tries desperately to cling to the man as he attempts to examine her to make sure she is ok.
It is amazing to me the force that this world has. Strength beyond what we can at times imagine. I always have a sense of caution in me during this time of year. It does not necessarily control my actions yet it still is ever constant in the back of my mind. Prediction of such events has excelled considerably over the years and yes, we do have the ability to prevent so much more than in earlier years. Yet still one never knows what Mother Nature may have up her sleeve. I have seen storms come to fruition in a matter of minutes giving those in its path little if any notice to react.
A matter of respect for her abilities perhaps… Or maybe it is just the fact that we should treat each moment of our lives as if it could possibly be the last. We should take every opportunity that befalls us to grab those moments that are so precious. This weekend once more has storms in the forecast. Once again it may just be rain; on the other hand I have lived here long enough to know that it has been 11 years since the last big one on May 3rd 1999. We Oklahomans know that the calm can not last forever.