I’m a born and raised Oklahoman. I’ve read several comments this week online from people asking why we would choose to live in a place known as Tornado Alley. Some have gone so far as to imply that we “have it coming” when disaster strikes because we know there’s a risk of tornadoes by living here.
As some Okies might say, this way of thinking really chaps my hide. According to the National Oceanic and Atlantic Administration (NOAA), there are two parts of the United States that have a high number of tornadoes in the spring: Florida and states known as Tornado Alley including Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, and Ohio. Furthermore, there’s an increased risk of tornadoes in the fall in Gulf States in areas such as Mississippi and Louisiana along with several other southern states.
So, what should all of the inhabitants of these states do to avoid tornadoes? Perhaps we should all pack up, vacate our respective states and move to Hawaii. Oh, nope. We could be hit by a tsunami or a volcano could erupt. What if we all headed to California like we did back in the Gold Rush days? Well, there we could encounter mudslides, wildfires, earthquakes, or floods. What about the East Coast then? Surely we’ll be safe there. Not if you remember Hurricane Sandy and the many hurricanes that came before her.
Obviously, natural disasters are everywhere. There is no magical place where everyone can move so that we are immune from them. Yes, we can do a lot to be prepared for tornadoes in Oklahoma. I firmly believe that everyone that can afford it should have a below ground storm shelter or above ground safe room. If you can’t afford it, you should have a storm safety plan so you know where you will go in case of a tornado. You need to be below ground, if possible. If not, put as many walls between yourself and the tornado as you can. Whatever you do, you don’t want to get caught in a car.
If you live in Oklahoma, there’s an excellent chance that you know someone who has lost their home or sustained damage in a tornado. My cousin and several friends lost their homes in this tornado. My sister-in-law lost her cousin. It is a fact of life in our state that tornadoes are going to happen at some point. We are prepared for it as much as we can be. I hope you have good insurance. Most people I know have a weather app on their phone or a weather radio so we are alerted when the weather starts to get bad. We all know that tornadoes don’t just happen during the day. Okies know that if Gary England starts cutting to Val Castor, you’d better freaking pay attention. If Mike Morgan is wearing his sparkly tie, you’d better tune in and listen up. Damon Lane is just getting started so I don’t know his tornado “tell” just yet but I’m sure I’ll figure it out soon enough.
At last count I heard that 13,000 homes were damaged and 24 precious lives were lost. While every single life is a terrible tragedy, it could have been so much worse. We have the best meteorologists in the nation and they save many lives during every storm. Thank God for them! We know what we are doing when it comes to tornadoes, for the most part. We just can’t move our homes out of the way. Tornadoes are unpredictable monsters and we don’t know exactly when they will strike. We do the best we can with the warning we have.
So, meanies, listen up. Make no mistake: Tornadoes are still natural disasters. We can’t just vacate half of the United States because a tornado could strike here. Oklahomans no more have it coming than the victims in California who build their homes by some trees that dry out, catch fire, have the winds blow out of control, and then burn to the ground. We no more have it coming than anyone who lives along the coast and loses everything to a hurricane. Oklahomans whose homes are destroyed by a tornado no more have it coming than someone who lives in the unpredictable path of torrential rains that quickly become a flood. If you think we do, then I pity you and your compassionless, black heart.
I already knew that the best part of Oklahoma was our people. On pretty much every normal day, strangers open doors for each other, wish each other “Good morning”, strike up conversations in the grocery store, etc. It’s just part of living in Oklahoma. It’s like a big, small town. But, the fact that Oklahomans are amazing was proven to me over and over again this week. The outpouring of love, kindness, generosity, and compassion has been overwhelming. People have been donating their time, money, clothes, water, food, shelter- you name it- to help others. Kids have set up lemonade stands to raise money for tornado victims. Ball players in uniform raised over $30,000 in cash for one family whose daughter was tragically killed at an elementary school that took a direct hit. When a crazy cult showed up to protest funerals of victims, bikers and many other volunteers turned out in droves to shield the family from their hateful words.
You see, the people are why we all live in Oklahoma. We care about each other-even when we don’t know each other. We have each others’ backs. When our people lose everything, the rest of us are there to say, “We are here for you and we will help you get back on your feet.” So, if you’re the kind of person who is on the outside looking in and instead of seeing an incredible community that rises above staggering tragedy, you make snarky comments like “If you choose to live in Tornado Alley and you get hit by a tornado, you have it coming,” here’s what I have to say to you: You probably just don’t understand Okies. Someone like you wouldn’t. So, please don’t ever come here. If you’re ever on I-35 or I-40 passing through, just keep on driving because we don’t need your bad attitude here. But the secret truth is if you are passing through and oh, say you got a flat tire. There’s a pretty good chance that some kind and caring Okie would probably pull over to help you change it because that’s just the kind of people we are. Another truth is that if you ever have a disaster in your area, there’s probably a pretty good chance that some of the volunteers that are working hard to help YOU will be Oklahomans. Bless your hearts.