By Shana Adkisson
The Norman Transcript
Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a week-long series focusing on storm shelters
Having lived through ice storms, wildfires, blizzards, excruciating heat waves and, of course, tornadoes, it seems as if whatever Mother Nature pelts Oklahomans with might slow us down for a brief time, but we always get back up, dust ourselves off and go on.
Growing bigger and stronger has been the way of life for Oklahomans for decades. There is nothing better to prove that point than the May 3, 1999, tornado. We are, once again, witnessing the rebuilding process following the tornadoes that rocked the area on May 19, May 20 and May 31.
As we mark the one month milestone of the devastation that tornadoes left in Cleveland County, The Transcript is dedicating a series of articles this week to taking shelter during tornadoes. Here’s a reminder of major tornadoes that have ripped through the area in years past.
May 3, 1999
Stretching across Oklahoma and Kansas, May 3, 1999, was a day that many still reflect on. A total of 74 tornadoes touched down across the two states in less than 21 hours. At one point, there were as many as four tornadoes reported on the ground at the same time, according to the NOAA website.
Tracked for nearly an hour and a half along a 38-mile path from Chickasha through south Oklahoma City and the suburbs of Bridge Creek, Newcastle, Moore, Midwest City and Del City, the May 3, 1999,
tornado was rated a maximum EF-5 on the Fujita Tornado Scale.
Final estimates of the 1999 tornado included 43 deaths and 800 injuries. More than 8,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and total property damage was approximately $1.5 billion.
May 8, 2003
On this historic day, two tornadic supercells produced four tornadoes during the afternoon, according to NOAA’s website.
The thunderstorms developed near and along a strong dryline which was located across central Oklahoma. It is reported that one supercell produced three tornadoes that left damage in Moore, southern Oklahoma City, Midwest City, and Choctaw. Some of the locations in Moore and southeast Oklahoma City had also been hit during the May 3, 1999, tornado. Notable damage was received at the General Motors Plant in southeast Oklahoma City.
According to CNN.com, state authorities said 300 homes were destroyed and 1,500 damaged.
A second tornadic event that day swept near the town of Red Rock in Noble County, and an EF-3 tornado was reported in Osage County.
Several tornadoes moved across south central Oklahoma during the early morning hours of May 8. This event also was the first of two days in a row where the Oklahoma City metropolitan area was affected by tornadoes. Several tornadoes, including an EF-3 tornado, hit the northern parts of the metro area on May 9, 2003. More than a dozen tornadoes struck the U.S. each day from May 3-11, 2003, according to NOAA.
May 20, 2013
Shortly after May 20, many had noted the eerie similarities that the tornado had with the infamous May 1999 destruction.
“It’s just hard to believe something like this could happen again to Moore,” Gov. Mary Fallin said during a press conference the evening of May 20.
The results of the EF-5 tornado that reached winds in excess of 200 mph during its peak: Two dozen deaths, including 10 children, more than 300 were injured and $2 billion in damages has been estimated.
It is estimated that 200 first responders began working shortly after the Monday afternoon storm that touched down at 2:45 p.m. and ended at 3:35 p.m. The tornado left a 17-mile path.
Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management and the Federal Emergency Management Agency compiled the damage assessment data for storms that took place May 19-20. According to preliminary aerial assessments, the storm impacted 3,937 homes, businesses and non-residential buildings in Cleveland, Lincoln, McClain, Oklahoma and Pottawatomie counties. Of those, 1,248 were destroyed, 452 sustained major damage, and 640 sustained minor damage.
The Moore Medical Center on I-35 was destroyed and patients were being transferred to Norman Regional’s two Norman campuses.
Interstate 35 was virtually shut down before 5 p.m. as traffic in both directions slowed to a crawl.
Completely destroyed in the twister were Plaza Towers, where seven students died, and Briarwood Elementary schools.
Clean-up efforts from tornados on May 19 and May 20 continue all across the county.