The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 22, 2013

At nature’s mercy

By David Christy, News Editor
Enid News and Eagle

— Have you ever noticed, the older you get, the worse previous weather calamities seem to be recorded into your memory?

Specifically, as I was digging the sleet and snow from the glassy areas of two cars Thursday morning, it occurred to me — I always seem to remember a winter storm here or a torrential rain event there or a really bad tornado season both here and there as being the “worst” in memory.

Of course, the worst always is subjective. My worst may not be your worst, and vice versa. As with anything, it’s all about the impression the calamity made on you.

Several of those so-called calamities happened during my younger years, and while they made an impression, it was more an inconvenience than a calamity when you are young.

The first calamity from my early memory came in a week’s span in the mid-1950s, a week in late May of severe storms and tornadoes I’ll always remember. Still called the Great Plains tornado outbreak of 1955, in my memory it was known around these parts as the night Blackwell blew away.

Of course, it didn’t entirely blow away, but the severe thunderstorms that spawned that monster wedge tornado came right through my hometown of Waukomis and crossed Garfield County.

I vividly remember terrible winds, blinding rain and hail and one of the most intense lightning storms in my memory that May 26 night. The next day, the newspapers were full of stories from Blackwell and Udall, Kan., which also was devastated by the same storm.

Blackwell’s tornado saw the loss of 20 lives and some 400 homes destroyed in the Kay county town. Udall was hit even harder, when 80 people died — half the town’s population.

That was back in the days when storm shelters were few and far between, and my parents, my sister and I all jumped in the family Chevy and headed to a cellar of some friends.

On the way, the dust generated on our shale road by the tornadic storm blinded my dad, and we ended up nearly hitting a large tree a block from our house.

Those were in the days before we all knew being in a vehicle during a tornadic storm isn’t the best place to be.

My next most vivid memory is the Enid flood of mid-October 1973. That was when between 15 and 20 inches of rain fell — including 12 inches in a three-hour period.

That evening, when the thunderstorms began to train across Garfield County, we recorded 6 inches in a two hour span in Waukomis.

I vividly remember standing on the front porch of my parents’ house and watching it come straight down — so intense it was hard to breathe.

But our rain six miles south was nothing compared to Enid’s, when a torrent of flashflood waters devastated parts of town, including the Brookside addition, killing nine in the county.

I remember riding in a wrecker with high school classmate Steve Conway, wending and weaving our way past flooded roads after being stopped by a raging torrent that swept through Meadowlake — on a roundtrip drive to downtown that normally took half an hour, which ended up taking about five hours.

And then, the grandaddy of all — the ice storm of 2002.

The old memory gets a little hazy here, but I’m pretty sure we were without electricity for 11 days here in Waukomis, and it was less or much more depending on where you were located in Garfield County.

Being the town’s emergency management director at the time, the National Weather Service had contacted me to send them some photos of the accumulating ice that late January. I took about six digital camera photos of ice the size of my fist coating trees and power lines.

About 15 minutes after I transmitted them, the power went out ... and stayed out.

The most vivid recollection after that was standing outside in the utter darkness, listening across town as large tree limbs snapped and crashed to the ground, sounding for all the world like shotguns going off.

Eating, getting water and keeping warm suddenly turned from being an easy, matter-of-fact, take-it-for-granted thing, to something that was complex, returning all of us to the days of our great-great-grandparents.

Simple chores became complex, and you had to carry a flashlight or candle lantern everywhere you went after dark. And boy, was it ever dark.

When the power finally did come back on, it became a standing joke in our house to go and flip the light switch on and off several times, just because we could.

And as it always has, man-made technology and our very lives, are and always will be at the utter mercy of Mother Nature.

Christy is news editor at the Enid News & Eagle. Go to his column blog at http://enid