Saturday, April 14, 2012

Adventures In Tornado Alley

Yesterday (Friday), an F1 or F2 tornado hopscotched diagonally across Norman, OK...a town that locals said could never take a direct hit from a twister. Indeed, before very recent years, the last glancing blow we'd had from a tornado was around 60 years ago.

But climate change is changing everything. Now we get blizzards, catastrophic ice and hailstorms, hurricane-strength straight-line winds, hottest-ever-recorded-in-the-nation heatwaves, boat-floating floods, and tree-killing droughts. Sometimes all in one year.

Climate change is creating "weather war zones" all over the country. Yesterday, we had a hair-raising skirmish right here in town.

It began with a bit of grumbling thunder...certainly nothing to get excited about. Then, as "they" say, all hell broke loose.

A tornado dropped out of a rotating cloud near I-35 and Lindsey Street (the main artery to the University of Oklahoma campus). Someone caught this on video--in the background, a woman could be clearly heard exclaiming, "S--t!" The twister proceeded to decapitate an apartment house, then hopped and jigged right on across town.

Some streets are barricaded today, with utility repairmen restoring whole blocks of toppled power poles. The dancing tornado sucked out all the plate-glass windows at Sugar, a custom cake store across from the main post office downtown (the post office lost part of its roof).

One of the old park trees split in half.
Next door to the post office, the library was unscathed (unlike during last year's catastrophic hailstorm), but lost some trees. Sadly...oh, so sadly...some of the worst damage was visited on beloved Andrews Park, just behind the library, where most of the big old shade trees were destroyed. It will take generations for the park to look the same again. (Ironically, this is the same park where actress Helen Hunt walked her dog while in town filming the movie, Twister.)

Fortunately, the park amphitheater was undamaged by the falling trees.

Many, many big trees at the park, along nearby streets, and in a hopscotch pattern across town were toppled. Several of those uprooted trees growing next to the 1930s-era open storm drain on Dawes Street (including at Andrews Park) pulled up part of the drain's stone walls. (I hope a proper stone mason is hired to restore that damage!)

One of several tree uprootings that tore holes in the Depression Era storm drain.
 A block or so from the park, a building was destroyed, and heavy bronze statues on display outside the Crucible foundry were shifted around like chess pieces; a one-ton statue was moved 30 feet!

Farther east, a file storage building on Porter Avenue lost its roof. (We stayed clear of areas where power lines were down and structural damage had occurred, not wanting to add to the incredible traffic congestion along those least, the streets that weren't barricaded.)

One of five uprooted trees just west of Andrews Park.

During the storm, of course, we were glued to ongoing television coverage. At one point, a storm spotter gave the coordinates of "a large rotation" in the storm (from which a tornado could drop at any moment). The coordinates just happened to be directly, smack over our house. Startled, my gaze snapped to the ceiling and I froze, holding my breath (not the brightest response, let me tell you), until the storm spotter announced new coordinates that indicated the rotation had moved on up the road.

Fortunately, no one was seriously injured, though roofs were caved in, windows blown out, and vehicles turned to scrap.

The National Weather Prediction Center (located here in town, along with a bunch of other National Weather Service entities) is warning of possible "life-threatening" storms tonight. (Indeed, as I write this post, dangerous storms are firing up in the northwest part of the state, moving this way.) There was a time when I would hope severe storms would miss us. But having been through the weather wars more than once, I now realize on a deeper level that a miss here is a hit there.

Now, I simply hope the prediction is wrong, and the storms don't develop at all.

Good luck out there, storm weatherers, wherever you are.

And if you do experience a hit or a miss, I want to hear from you.


Christine Rimmer said...

Wow! I should have checked in with you sooner. The reports here in Oregon gave us like...nothing. I heard from Helen Duchon and looked at her pictures on facebook. There was NEVER supposed to be a tornado in central Norman. Never. I'm glad you weren't hit. Even if others were.

Sandra Dark said...

Turns out the track was even longer than reported. It started behind the restaurants, hotels and Home Depot on the Parkway...did a lot of roof damage over there, tearing a couple of AC units off Home Depot's roof. Just missed our house over there...and over here. Sheesh. We need a shelter!