“If you haven’t gone to the cellar, you really need to go now. This is a huge circulation. There are vortices everywhere. This is extremely dangerous, so you folks in the path of this tornado, get below ground. If you can’t do that, get in the center part of your house, a closet or bathroom. Get on the east or north wall. Lots of pillows and blankets. Get in the bathtub. Put the kids in the bathtub, get on top of the kids. This is extremely dangerous.“
The words reverberated across Central Oklahoma, amplified by television sets and radios stretching from Tulsa to the Texas border. The voice, as familiar to Oklahomans as the rustling of wheat fields or the boom of thunder, belonged to KWTV News 9 Chief Meteorologist Gary England. It was the moment he’d been steeling himself for since June 8, 1974, when a devastating tornado killed 14 people with little warning in and around the town of Drumright.
It was a tragic event, but Gary understood that it was nothing compared to a potential worst-case scenario. In fact, he was certain that one day, a massive, violent F5 tornado would drop from the wide-open prairie skies and tear a path of unprecedented destruction right through the increasingly populated heart of the Oklahoma City Metro. The carnage of such an event was almost too much to imagine.
There had been plenty of close calls over the years, plenty of urgent cut-ins to implore viewers and listeners to take shelter and keep themselves safe. Still, the city at the heart of Tornado Alley usually escaped with little more than glancing blows. But on this day — this warm, humid Monday afternoon in May of 1999 — the state’s seasoned weather sage knew that Oklahoma’s luck had just run out.Continue reading