If you're an average Oklahoman and you've never gotten close to a tornado; be thankful. Certain things should be viewed from afar and these weather monsters are high on the list. We are in a part of the country that annually takes a hit.
Whether you are outside or inside, tornadoes can be dangerous and cause incredible devastation. They are sheer, uncontrolled power, capable of moving with deceptive speed.
For instance ...
Many years ago, when I was on the staff of the Enid News & Eagle, a particularly stormy night spawned several tornadoes in northwest Oklahoma. A photographer and I left Enid and traveled to Kingfisher County, where there was a report of a lightning strike causing a major fire at a gas plant near Lacey.
When we reached the scene, we learned there was no serious problem, just a flare burning off excess product after a lightning strike. So, we headed back toward Enid and into one of the darkest nights I ever had seen. That is, dark until lightning illuminated the sky. During one of those bright flashes, we noticed that we were headed for a flooded creek at the bottom of the small hill we had just crested.
We stopped to rethink our trip back to the office and were planning to turn around when through the wind we heard a loud, constant roar. We got out of the car to check it out and the sky lit up behind us. About two miles back (and it seemed much, much closer), a tornado was on the ground and heading our way.
We found the first dirt road that was headed away from the tornado and toward U.S. 81, and the photographer mashed the gas pedal into the floorboard. Safely back, we got an earful from the city editor, who had been trying to call us by two-way.
Another close call came a few years later after I joined The Oklahoman. My son and I were on a return trip to Edmond after taking my wife to Ponca City when her grandfather died. It was brewing up a big storm around us as we traveled Interstate 35 southbound.
When the radio personality broke into the music with an emergency announcement of a tornado between Hennessey and Stillwater, we paid attention. He was talking about where we were at the moment.
My son, who was about 9 at the time, asked: “What does a tornado look like, Dad?” I turned my head to respond to him and there, a few miles away and heading right for us, was his answer. “Like that,” I said, pointing at the twister.
Even at the distance we were from the tornado, we could feel its approach. Our small car was bouncing around so much it was difficult to steer. We traveled on and the tornado crossed I-35 behind us, making it to Stillwater, where it caused significant damage.
So, in both instances, we did the right thing, huh? Not entirely.
The experts will tell you that if you are in the path of a tornado and there is a building nearby, get out of the car and seek shelter there. Also, you never know which direction a tornado might turn. Your vehicle could end up in a direct path.
If there isn't a building available, look for a ditch or low-lying area and lie as flat as possible, AAA Oklahoma advises. You should not take cover under an overpass. Wind strength and flying debris are extremely dangerous.
Another reason it's best not to drive during severe storms: Water on the road. A small puddle actually could be deep enough to flood out your vehicle. Water flowing over a road could sweep your vehicle away. And water can cost you traction, causing your vehicle to hydroplane.
Those are the best choices. But if you have no choice but to keep traveling, at least try to go at a right angle to the storm.
By the way ...
Check out the resources in knowit.newsok.com/severe-weather-Oklahoma for more information on surviving storms. It just might save your life.
Enjoy your week and drive safely.