The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

3 May 2004

A storm story

Here in Tornado Alley, there's a tendency to become complacent: we see the warnings on TV and we think, "Oh, well, it's another one." If it's coming our way, we fumble to remember our safety precautions; if it's not, we shrug.

Five years ago today, no one shrugged. No one had time to shrug. It was the first F5-level tornado ever seen in the city, the very top of the Fujita scale, and the damage started at unimaginable and worked its way up from there.

From my notes at the time:

At its peak, the funnel was nearly a mile wide, and its easternmost flank ventured to within half a mile of this desk. At least, that's what they said in the newspapers; what I saw looked more like a matte painting from a science-fiction film, and an ill-lit one at that. The electrical power went dead here almost immediately, and was not restored until the next day. The only actual damage to my premises, though, was some ostensible surface excitement added to the top of my car, courtesy of a barrage of high-speed ice balls. Given the sheer strength of this storm — bigger vehicles than this were picked up and dropped across the street or in front of houses or even into houses — I'm not inclined to complain a great deal about a handful of dimples.

By the time the storm had passed my area, it had dropped below F5 level, so I managed to avoid seeing the worst of it. South and west of me, though, it was a war zone: nearly two thousand homes destroyed, six thousand more damaged. There was speculation that the storm had actually reached F6 levels; subsequent research seemed to establish that it hadn't, but at this point, it was like wondering, after your car had been totaled, if the turn-signal lever still worked.

[N]o one really believes it's over. You can't watch destruction at this level, even at a "safe" distance, without something happening to you. The deeply religious, and we have lots of them, saw this as a severe test of their faith; the vast majority of them, I believe, held on. For those of an environmentalist bent — and perhaps also for those who scoff at such things — the storm was a none-too-gentle reminder that Nature always gets the last word.

For the most part, rebuilding has been completed; the former Tanger Outlet Center in Stroud, still in ruins, will be rebuilt as a medical center starting later this year.

Today will be placid, this morning chilly, this afternoon sunny, winds on the light side. Fortunately.

Posted at 7:44 AM to City Scene


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I forget what character of America's Pasttime used to say that about never looking back, but Charles Hill chose not......[read more]

Just one more MPH on that twister, so I hear, would indeed have put it beyond the range Dr. Fujita prescribed for an F5.

I read somewhere that the name for an F5 is "incredible." The name for an F6 was "inconceivable."

Obviously that was written before 1999.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:02 AM on 3 May 2004

That's incredible. Somehow I can't really understand how a tornado can exist; such a compact, powerful entity conjured out of nothing.

Posted by: Tom at 1:45 PM on 3 May 2004

I think the consensus is that 318 mph is what The Monster attained.

I can't even comprehend it.

To this day, the video footage of May 3, 1999 just stops me cold in my tracks in wonderful, horrible fascination.

Posted by: David at 7:42 PM on 3 May 2004