We had a spot of weather here in Norman, Oklahoma yesterday, May 10, 2010. Click on the thumbnail (well, ok, toenail) for a larger image.

The National Weather Service says that we had something like 24 tornadoes in that outbreak, and that at least 5, possibly 6, were at intensity EF-3 on the Extended Fujita scale. That's winds in excess of 165 miles/hour. Two people were killed in the outbreak, several were injured, at least four still are in hospital, and at least 240 buildings were damaged or destroyed.


This image, of a "rope" tornado, typical of a very late stage in the lifecycle of a tornado, was taken on I-40 between US Highway 81 and Banner Road. Later tornadoes in this outbreak appeared to be more intense, in the "elephant trunk" or "wedge" shape typical of high wind speeds and greater organization.



This is a view of the Love's Country Store at Choctaw Road and I-40, on the east side of Oklahoma City. It took a direct. Several people huddled in the cooler, the restrooms, and behind the soft drink chiller cases; all escaped without injury.



Another view of that same Love's Country Store. Note that in both these images, the damage is rather localized, and that semi-trucks only a few dozen meters away from the damage are still upright and essentially undamaged.



This was the Country Boy IGA supermarket on Oklahoma State Highway 9, about 10 miles east of I-35. It, too, took a direct hit and had a number of people inside, but all escaped without injury.

Melody and I, and the cats, birds, and dog, all are OK, though we had a big tornado go E to W across I-35 about 4 miles N of us and another big one go along Highway 9 (E to W) about 4 miles S of us. I spent about 4 hours with weather radio (constant alarms), ham radio handy-talkie (for the storm spotter net, which was very active), cell phone (for calls from friends and relatives), and the TV all going, and cats draping themselves all over me for cuddles. At one point there were TEN simultaneous active tornado warning boxes displayed on the NOAA radar site that covers OKC and its environs.

We had just come home -- literally just pulled the van into the driveway and opened the doors -- when the tornado warning sirens went off. I had about 5 seconds advance warning, as I had been listening to the National Weather Service broadcast station for central Oklahoma (162.40 MHz, FM, if you're interested), and had heard the tornado warning go out. We had to decide whether to stay home or head for the nearest public shelter, in the basement of Norman Regional Hospital, about 1 km away. I looked at the NWS radar display on my iPhone, noted that the actual storms were north and south of us and that they were moving so that neither would go across us. We talked it over, and stayed home.

We're all OK. We never even had power do more than flicker, and the UPS kept my server, the cable modem, the wireless router, and the 10/100 switch for the wired stuff all going. Other parts of Norman weren't so lucky, and there are lots of power lines down all over the south end.

One set of those power lines goes to the city's water purification plant east of town. As a result of that outage, Norman is having to buy water from OKC, through a pipe that is about 1/4 the size we need. No outside watering for us, until that's fixed, and very low pressure. Worse yet, the purification plant nearest us in OKC, on L. Draper, had ITS power lines taken out, so OKC is having to ship water to the south side (and thence to us) through undersized emergency cross-connects. No outside watering for them, either, and low pressure.

But the tornado that crossed I-35 N of us went across a point that I drive through twice every workday, unless I drive Melody to school on the alternate route. It rolled semi rigs, picked up cars and pickup trucks and left them high and dry a few hundred yards away. It also played hob with billboards, highway signs, and trees.

Friends in Moore, about 10 miles N of us, had a tornado go down the street behind them, but they were unharmed.

The one south of us damaged the NOAA National Weather Center in S. Norman, damaged or destroyed several homes -- including a friend's[1], and trashed a supermarket about 10 miles SE of us. It is a miracle that nobody was even injured in that supermarket, but all escaped without scathe.

This morning I drove Melody to work, taking the eastern alternate route, up Sooner Road, since she had some packages to take to school. The alternate route is a 25 mile straight shot from central Norman to her school. This morning it, too, took us through tornado damage: stripped and broken trees, downed fences and signs, with bats of insulation caught in barbed wire fences to tell us of house damage that we couldn't see. There was not a pervasive odor of wet pinewood, thank goodness; that is a certain sign of major structural damage, as I learned in the two or three weeks following the May 3 1999 tornadoes. I drove up I-35, through a heavily-damaged bit of Moore, and got to know that scent far too well.

There were other tornadoes, one of which totally trashed two truckstops on I-40 about 20 miles NE of us -- again, with no injuries there.

The Search and Rescue teams are still counting damaged structures, looking for people, and so on, so the final numbers aren't in. At this point it appears that several hundred structures (houses, businesses) took some damage, from minimal through total destruction, some dozens of people were injured, and 3 (according to Norman EMS) or 5 (according to OKC EMS) people died.

Once again, the amateur radio storm spotter networks (OKC, Moore, and Norman) proved their worth, spotting funnels, high winds, hail, and other things the meteorologists and emergency operations people need to know, and getting them to the National Weather Service and to the various civil Emergency Operations Centers. At least one of my ham friends, while storm-spotting, was involved as a first responder just after a funnel touched down east of Norman, stopping to render aid and to call an ambulance.

We knew going in that it was going to be a bad day. All the classical elements for major tornado outbreaks were present: high humidity, a warm dry line from the south, a cold front from the west, and heavy late spring insolation. We just didn't know how bad it was going to be. We were damned lucky to get off so lightly, or God held His hand over us to protect us. Or both. I'll accept "both" as an answer.

[1] She's in Montana, and thus undamaged, but the house was uninsured, so when she comes back, she gets to start over from scratch.