Looking Back at the May 19-20 Tornado Outbreak
Posted on Monday, June 3, 2013 at 4:30 AM MST
MOORE, OK -- May 3rd, 1999. It's a date that anyone with ties to Oklahoma knows very well. If you don't know, an F5 tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma that day, packing winds of 318 miles per hour (no, that's not a type-o), which to this day remains the strongest wind ever measured on earth. The damage it did was incredible. Quite a few people said we would never see anything like it again. Mother Nature tried very hard to replicate the May 3rd tornado in 2011. Don't get me wrong, those 2011 tornadoes were horrific, but they were not quite at the level of the 1999 tornado.
Now, fast forward to May 20th, 2013. The unthinkable happened. Not only did the tornado rival May 3rd, it struck nearly the exact same place. There was even a one square mile block that was wiped clean by both tornadoes. What really stands out is the amount of damage the May 20th tornado did. The magnitude of the damage dwarfed the May 3rd tornado. Being here for this one was quite the experience, too.
We all knew the atmosphere was incredibly volatile on May 20th. The instability was so high it was described as "gasoline", and the dryline/front coming in was the match. What amazed me was how fast it all happened. It went from not a cloud in the sky to an EF-5 tornado on the ground in less than an hour. That is absolutely unheard of. The best description I heard was that the tornado struck with the power and intensity of the May 3rd tornado and with the warning of the Joplin tornado (which was not very much).
I was all set to go chase that storm when it formed, but got sucked into watching it on TV. As soon as that tornado touched down, you knew it was going to be a monster. I quickly decided to sit that one out, as I did not want to get involved with a violent tornado or get in the way of first responders. Once it touched down and started churning up I-44, you couldn't help but think of May 3rd and deja vu.
Watching it on TV and being in the area for it was like being in a dream. You tried to wake up and snap out of it, but you couldn't. It finally sunk in what was happening when the people on TV said "Tornado Emergency in Cleveland County" and the second they said that, as if on cue, tornado sirens began to blare where I was in Norman. That eerie sight got even eerier when the power went out and cell service was cut. As the storm came into Cleveland County, I could hear what sounded like a constant roll of thunder, even over the sirens. Once they shut the sirens off, I went out and stood in my driveway and realized that the sound I was hearing was not thunder, it was the tornado tearing Moore to shreds only 10 miles away.
Driving through Moore a week after the tornado made it really set in just how destructive it was. There were areas where you could look out over what used to be a neighborhood and it was just nothing but mangled debris and unrecognizable piles of rubble as far as you could see. There is no camera lens that can capture the totality of the devastation.
Words cannot describe what's left of the elementary school. How anyone survived in there should be considered nothing more than a miracle. But the image that sticks in my mind the most was seeing the playground, which was nothing more than an unrecognizable pile of twisted and mangled metal. It really makes you appreciate everything you have, especially after having two violent tornadoes pass within 10 miles of my house in less than 24 hours (the funnel that would become the Shawnee EF-4 tornado the day before passed right over my house).
I will not be publicly posting any pictures of the damage, so this writeup will have to do. If you were in the shoes of the people in Moore, you wouldn't want people driving around taking pictures of what used to be your life and posting them online for the whole world to see. Having gone through this before, our neighbors in Moore are some of the strongest people around, and I know that this tragedy will only make them stronger. They will be back bigger and better than ever. We wish them (and everyone else affected by these awful tornadoes the past two weeks) nothing but the best for a quick and speedy recovery. Stay safe and stay strong, Oklahoma.
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