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Windswept – Tornado!

Excerpts from the article by Jacob Klee

May 3rd, 1999

photo
Illustration by Duncan McKee

For most this was just another day, but for over one million lives in central Oklahoma, it was the day that the seemingly impossible became a terrifying reality.

I came to Oklahoma during the final week of September, 1998, eager to see the storms one could only read about back in the Mid-Atlantic. In only a few short days, I was introduced to what the weather across the southern Plains was capable of. While settling into my Edmond apartment on October 4th, I happened upon one of the local TV stations reporting tornadoes developing near Watonga, a small town about 50 miles to the northwest. Soon, the three major news stations in the area were covering the outbreak, each with their own Doppler radar, chase teams, and meteorologists. Two of the stations even had their own helicopters flying about the tornadoes. Before the night was over 22 tornadoes had carved paths across the Sooner State, including an F2 tornado that moved through the southern Oklahoma City suburb of Moore.

Such was my introduction to the potential ferocity of southern Plains weather, even during the rather late month of October, a month that typically brings at most only a few tornadoes to the entire region.

The period from mid-April to mid-June is when most tornadoes usually occur across the southern Plains. Having spent most of my life with the comparatively milder Mid-Atlantic and New England thunderstorms, I was curious to see what Oklahoma would produce in 1999. By the start of May my curiosity was becoming eagerness. I hadn't long to wait. Soon I saw more than I ever wanted to see.

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