NORMAN — A tornado Friday afternoon cut an eight-mile path through Norman, snapping power poles, uprooting trees, damaging buildings and causing minor injuries as residents braced for the potential of even more severe weather throughout the weekend.
“It is surprising you don't have more injured with the time of day, about 4:02,” Deputy Norman Fire Chief Jim Bailey said. “Norman is a busy town. There were a lot of people out driving around, and we had very little notification.”
Cleveland County was in a tornado watch minutes before the twister suddenly touched down at Interstate 35 and W Lindsey Street. It hopscotched through the center of town, ripping the roofs off buildings and raking a park near the city's municipal complex before fading out in the northeast side of the city near Robinson and 12th Avenue NE. Thousands lost electricity.
A tornado warning was issued at 3:59 p.m., the tornado touched down three minutes later, and the first damage was reported at 4:07 p.m., said Rick Smith, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
At least 18 people were taken to Norman Regional Hospital with minor injuries like scrapes and bruises, said Kelly Wells, hospital spokeswoman.
One person was admitted to the hospital, and the others were treated and released, she said.
One person was treated and released at the Health Plex in Norman. Everyone had minor injuries. The person admitted to the hospital was in fair condition as of 10:30 p.m. Friday.
Wells said hundreds of people sought shelter at the hospitals in Norman. This can cause problems for the hospital as they try to treat patients.
“If they can't find shelter elsewhere, we would encourage them to do that, but we wouldn't turn them away,” Wells said.
Two of the injured were in a vehicle when the tornado hit and another was hit by debris, Bailey said.
The strength of the tornado was not immediately calculated, but the damage pattern seemed to indicate the tornado was not of the most powerful variety.
Atmospheric conditions Saturday will be ripe for more tornadoes and other severe weather, the National Weather Service said.
“The bottom line is, be ready for it. It may happen in one place or it may happen across a huge part of the state, but it only takes one tornado and one storm,” Smith said.
Severe thunderstorms are possible throughout the state Saturday, but the Oklahoma City area and most of the middle third of the state are in an area deemed at the highest risk.
Storms are expected to form in the late afternoon or early evening and track across the state, forecasters said. Tornadoes, damaging straight-line winds, lightning, hail and flooding rain are possible.
“If everything comes together like it could, it could be a serious situation for parts of Oklahoma,” Smith said.
‘There was a roar'
In Norman on Friday, the University of Oklahoma had no reports of damage, a spokeswoman said, but other areas weren't so lucky.
Smith said the most significant structural damage was found near the hospital at N Porter Avenue and E Robinson Street. Bailey said the tornado ripped the trees out at Andrews Park near the municipal complex.
Philip DeFatta, owner of Leon Pierce Body Shop, 521 N Porter, said he took cover inside his shop. While he did not hear the tornado, he heard the medical records building next door explode.
“It's gone,” he said. “The roof's gone. It's all over the place. The front wall is down. Part of it is in my building.”
He said the storm moved around cars in his parking lot, but his auto repair building is intact.
DeFatta said he does not believe anyone was in the medical records building when it was hit. “The police have been all through it, looking,” he said.