(photo credit David Schultz NOAA ) See where the wood penetrated the metal on the car? Geez...
May 3, 1999 was a day I, and many other Oklahomans, will never forget. It was Friday afternoon and I had just got off a conference call around 4:30. I was tired after a long week so I flipped on the TV to take my mind off of work. Well, there was live news reports warning there was a tornado around 70-80 miles south-southwest of Oklahoma City - near the community of Amber. I had no idea this tornado was going to stay on the ground for hours and create the strongest winds ever recorded - EVER!
It started out small, like an F1, but as it got closer to Oklahoma City the thing - this monster of a storm - got bigger and bigger and BIGGER! I'll never forget watching this whole thing live as it happened from the eyes of the local TV helicopters. The most chilling moments that really haunt me were to see destroyed neighborhoods moments after the tornado tore through them in the Bridge Creek/Moore suburbs that was hit the hardest. People were coming out of an elementary school, where they had taken shelter, and they were just walking around in a daze among the total destruction of what use to be their homes. Most homes were gone and destroyed beyond recognition. I knew if the helicopters stayed on the scene long enough we would see people who had died. It was really uncomfortable to see this horror unfold as it happened while sitting in the comforts of my family room.
Oh, the smell of natural gas! I can still remember how strong it was. It hung in the air for the longest time after the monster destroyed most everything in its path. We were 15 miles away, too.
In all, there were over 60 tornados that day that ripped through Oklahoma and Kansas. The most in Oklahomas history, I believe. They claimed 48 lives - most from the big tornado I mentioned above. It was an F5 tornado with winds in excess of 300 miles per hour.
(photo credit NOAA) Moore, Okla.
The first video below was taken by some very brave (perhaps foolish?) storm chasers. It abruptly stops because, I think, they got too close. Below is the info written about the video:
Footage of the May 3, 1999 tornado that tore through the southwest side of Oklahoma City. The audio heard on the first part of the video is from TV station KFOR that was simulcasting on FM radio. The other audio is the local Oklahoma City police channel. This video was taken from an on duty police unit, it ends when downed power lines blocked the path and the officer went into rescue mode, shooting no more video the rest of the evening.
At the beginning of the video the tornado was an F4. It then reduced to F3 or F2 for a brief period, then spun back up to an F5 near the end of the video.
Oklahoma University's DOW truck recorded a wind speed of 318 mph from this tornado a few minutes prior to the start of this video.
See how cars just pass on by as if nothing was happening? At the end of the video there are more videos of this storm that should pop up, 14 in all, I did add two of the best ones below. 3.22 minutes
The next video is unbelievable as these young storm chasers ended under an underpass for protection as the tornado came way too close to them. Had the tornado been just a tad bit closer they might have been sucked out from the underpass, which is what happened to three unfortunate people who took this kind of shelter (which is a no no). It took three days to find one of them.
This was the only tornado where I heard the weathermen urge people in its path to get underground! Usually, they tell us to get into our safe room, like in a small room with no outside walls in homes. It was a chilling warning so I knew this was going to be a bad one.