Smith said the city of Moore, which lies just to the east of the Canadian River, isn't sitting on some doomed patch of land.
“Scientifically, there is nothing special about Moore to cause tornadoes to happen there ... more than they happen anywhere else,” Smith said. “It's just chance, I mean, it's just the way it's worked out.
“That seems weird, but there is no scientific explanation for it.”
Smith said scientists know a lot about tornadoes and what conditions are like when they crop up, but “we only know a very short history of tornadoes.”
“When we plot all these lines on a map, that's only 50 to 100 years worth of tornadoes,” he said. “If we knew what a thousand years of tornadoes looked like, they'd probably be evened out and there wouldn't be clusters.”
Aside from rivers, Smith expressed serious doubt that other natural features can affect weather systems capable of producing tornadoes.
He said “there's just no evidence that relatively subtle changes in terrain or geography affect tornadoes.”
“That storm that produced the (May 20) Moore tornado was probably 60,000 feet tall, 10 to 12 miles high, it was massive,” Smith said. “(Natural features) would just have nothing to do with what it's going to do ... a bluff, a bend in the river or the interstate or anything else like that.
“Tornadoes cross rivers, they cross mountains ... into downtown areas, whatever.”
Beliefs will likely persist
Stephen Tremaine, a lifelong Norman resident, said he's heard that tornadoes strike west Norman more often than the rest of the city. He also has heard that the Canadian River “protects” the city.
“And you hear the person who thinks because there was some Indian tribe here at some point that they're not going to hit us here,” said Tremaine, 27. “You've heard all of that over the years, and you kind of wonder how people react to that knowledge.”
Smith said theories he hears about tornadoes are usually based on a cumulative family history.
“It's been handed down for generations, for some people,” Smith said. “Either it's their personal experience or something else, but there's nothing scientific about it.”
CONTRIBUTING: Staff Writer Bryan Painter