MOORE — Gayland Kitch pointed to what he calls his "F-5 windows” at Moore City Hall. May 3 marks 10 years since he looked through the clear glass panes at a life-taking, life-changing monster tornado packing winds of likely more than 300 mph. Kitch, the Emergency Management director for the city of Moore, has seen the city hit by an F-3 on Oct. 4, 1998, the F-5 on May 3, 1999, and an F-4 on May 8, 2003.
Connecting the dotsOn the morning of May 3 there was a "slight risk of severe thunderstorms,” he said. But as the day went on, emergency officials monitored the radar, reports and radios. The sirens sounded at 7 p.m., 20 to 25 minutes before the F-5 entered Moore. "Honestly we knew an hour out that there was a very good chance that we were going to get hit,” he said. He sat down at an overlay on a map to track the path of the storm. "At some point I made the mistake of drawing the lines and connecting the dots,” he said, "and I’m like, ‘That’s over Moore.’ I didn’t like that. "But we had plans, we’d practiced, we’d talked. We’d had exercises. I think we’d probably prepared as much as you can prepare for one.” Part of the preparation had come seven months earlier — live.
It could happenThe Oct. 4, 1998, tornado was a message, Kitch said. "If nothing else, it made us realize that it can happen,” he said. That doesn’t mean Moore hadn’t had tornadoes. They had, including an F-3 in November 1973. It also doesn’t mean they hadn’t prepared. Emergency responders and others had practiced. The fire department, police department, public works and county commissioners responded quickly, he said.
What’s changed?The emergency management director leaned forward when asked, "What’s changed since May 3, 1999?” "May 3rd kind of got people serious about weather radios,” he said. "And we’ve got tons more storm shelters with the FEMA program after May 3rd and again after May 8.” In 1999, Moore had 12 warning sirens. Now, the city has 33, including 21 that not only have "alerting tones” but can carry verbal warnings. The sirens undergo an internal test at 5 each morning. Three more units will be ordered next month. Also today, he has several computer monitors allowing him to watch radars from the National Weather Service and television stations. He also has about 25 mobile storm spotters from Moore and works with other spotters in Norman. "I can’t keep a storm from happening,” he said. "But as long as I can make sure that the people that are here survive and get recovered back to their normal state of affairs to where they’re not thinking about me, or thinking about tornadoes, that’s my goal. And, I think we’ve achieved that. "I hope we have.”
Related Links Archived radar shot from the May 3, 1999, tornado
AT A GLANCEMAY 3, 1999 OUTBREAK This outbreak included nearly 60 tornadoes in central Oklahoma, the largest tornado outbreak ever recorded in Oklahoma, according to the National Weather Service. More than 40 people were killed. Among the nearly 60 tornadoes was the F5 tornado with a track including the Oklahoma City area and two F4 tornadoes that tore through parts of Kingfisher and Logan counties.
SPECIAL COVERAGETell us your tornado story As part of our coverage of the 10th anniversary of the May 3, 1999, tornadoes, we are looking for your videos, photos and — most of all — your memories. If you have anything we could use or would like to talk to us about that day, please let us know and help us with our special report online and in the newspaper. E-mail Multimedia Editor Mike Koehler for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.