Hi and thanks for reading. I am writing a blog a day in May for cystic fibrosis awareness month – my son Eli, 1, has CF. However, a year ago today, deadly storms and tornadoes hit the Oklahoma City metro. I’ve been engrossed in tornadoes and weather and the grief of mothers of victims and other survivors for two weeks in my other life, that of reporter, in order to write a few anniversary stories. Sometimes delving in these topics gets a lot knocking around in my head, and I feel the need to write it out. So that’s what I’m doing here.
For those not from around here, this is how it’s explained the weather events of May 2013 in my article in The Oklahoman this week about the anniversary:
In a state long accustomed to the forceful nature of spring weather, the series of storms that roared across central Oklahoma during a two-week period in May 2013 altered so much.
… It started May 19, when a typical supercell spawned eight tornadoes that damaged or destroyed dozens of homes and buildings as they swept across Edmond, Arcadia, Luther, Carney, Prague, Norman and the Shawnee area, where two elderly men were killed.
The next day brought one of the largest and most powerful storms the state has ever seen. Among 15 tornadoes May 20 was a rare EF5 that packed 210 mph winds as it plowed across Newcastle, south Oklahoma City and Moore. Twenty-five people died, including seven students who perished when a hallway wall collapsed on top of them at Plaza Towers Elementary School.
Then, on May 31, 19 more twisters gashed the still-reeling region, including a 2.6-mile-wide tornado, thought to be the widest on record in the United States. Eight people died when the tornado caught them in their vehicles near El Reno. Heavy rainfall produced historic flash flooding that killed 15 others, including a 5-month-old baby girl swept through a drainage tunnel and whose body has never been recovered.
In my research for the anniversary piece, I found five more instances in recorded history in which tornadoes have killed students at schools in Oklahoma.
Because only about 9 percent of tornadoes have historically hit the state between the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., the school shelter issue had been absent from public discourse for a long time, according to my sources at the National Weather Service and the superintendent of Moore Public Schools, Robert Romines. With most tornadoes striking in the evening, the emphasis on shelters has been residential. The disaster on May 20 changed that discourse. I spoke to parents of tornado victims and survivors of the school disaster in the last two weeks. The loss hurts today just as much as it did a year ago. On May 20, 9-year-old Christopher Legg rose from a spot where he sat with another class to comfort a crying friend. He covered her as the <a tornado splintered the school. Legg died when a wall collapsed on him. His cause of death is listed as mechanical asphyxia. He, and most of the other children, smothered in the wreckage. Danni Legg, Christopher's mother, told me grief hurts in the quiet moments at home. Christopher Legg loved rough-housing with his brother, sister and dad. There was a familiar clamor at home that's gone now, because the tornado took the family's beloved brother. “We need more noise,” Danni Legg told me. “You get used to that. You get used to that level of voices. Then it’s not there, and it hurts so bad.” One boy, Kyle Davis, 8, was killed by blunt force trauma. Davis loved to play defense and goalie in soccer matches, his mother told me. On account of his hardy size, his coaches nicknamed him “The Wall” at age 5. A year on, Mikki Davis struggles every day with the loss. “The pain is always going to be there,” she said. “My heart is going to be broken forever. But I know in my heart, I know where Kyle is. I will see Kyle again.”
My heart goes out to these families.
Their tragedy is fresh, but similar school-tornado disasters have hit Oklahoma before.
I wanted to share front pages following tornado disasters from 1917, 1930, 1944 and 1945. According to Richard Smith, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service, these tornadoes killed 16 students at a poorly constructed Indian mission school in Vireton (near Lake Eufala) on Jan 4, 1917; six students Nov. 19, 1930 in Bethany; One student at evening basketball practice on Jan. 26, 1944 in Granite; and three students on April 12, 1945 at a school for the blind dormitory in Muskogee.
Our weather is so unpredictable. Two of the historic school-tornado disasters hit in January. Students were killed in 1944 and then 1945. Sixty eight years passed, and then the twister killed students in Moore. I hope for a quiet spring.
My hope is that this brand of nightmarish tragedy never, ever happens again.
For more on the history of deadly tornadoes at schools, view the below PDF. The presentation was authored by Richard Smith, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service offices in Norman, and Harold Brooks with the National Severe Storms Laboratory.