Friday, when the tornado sirens sounded for the Oklahoma County area, photographer Chris Landsberger and I left The Oklahoman building to try to cover the storms.
It was our plan to head south and follow behind the storm to photograph the debris. It is a plan we have used a million times, but this time was different. It did not go smoothly and it all started with the traffic.
Interstate 235 quickly became a parking lot with frightened residents fleeing south. We exited as soon as possible and tried to navigate south via the side roads. Even the gravel country roads were wall-to-wall traffic. We eventually headed west on SW 119.
I don't know if the El Reno storm turned south or new storms popped up around us, but it seemed as though the storm was insistent on following us south. We could see I-44 ahead of us and it was backed up as far as the eye could see. We looked north and it was a wall of black. As we stood still in traffic, Chris and I both looked at the clouds swirling above us. Around and Around the clouds went. We were stuck and out of options. We were forced to take the first road south and it became a dead end on private land.
There were at least seven other cars parked on the farmland and we all rode out the storm there, hoping for the best. Our car rocked back and forth as we were pelted with blinding rain until it became clear to begin travel north. I don't know how long it was but it felt like an eternity.
We finally made our way to I-44 until it was shut and we were forced to exit on SW 29th. The residential streets were flooded every direction we took. Cars were floating in the middle of the road. Once again traffic was everywhere and it was mass chaos.
So we turned around back toward I-44. We traveled north on an access road. Things were fine until we hit a spot of water that was too deep to drive through. Luckily we were able to park on a curb away from the water but by this time we had a flat tire.
So in the blinding rain Chris and I changed the spare doughnut tire. Well, Chris did most of the work. I stood in the downpour for moral support. Two men from the neighborhood were walking up and down the street helping stranded motorists. They kindly shined a light on the tire as Chris put the spare on. By this time we were soaked from head to toe and still trapped by the floodwaters.
After the tire change, the car became a mobile newsroom. I began to edit and transmit photos back to the paper as we painstakingly waited for the water to recede. We waited for about 40 minutes until we could drive through. We finally made it to I-44 and limped our way back to the paper.
This was the most chaotic time I have ever had while covering a storm. I was only out there to do my job of telling the story of the storm, otherwise I would have been home. I am not too afraid to admit it, but I was scared. I almost became one of the stories.
I hope this is our last tornado of the season, because like all Oklahomans, I could use some sunny skies.