Tehachapi's Online Community News & Entertainment Guide

Lucking out: an Oklahoma tornado story

On the Bright Side

The wonky, wildly windy weather we've had lately, along with counting my blessings in this new year and remembering that sometimes I just luck out for no apparent reason, made me think back on one particular long-ago tornado experience.

One summer day circa 1974 a friend and I went to the softball fields in Oklahoma City to watch some good tournament slow pitch. The weather was iffy to say the least – rain threatened, and tornados were forecast – but that was a common summer occurrence in the Sooner State, so until or unless things became life threatening, the games must go on.

We had just pulled into the parking lot when things became life threatening. The sirens started wailing and the announcer told everyone to take cover immediately. The stands and softball field emptied, and everyone headed for a concrete underpass near the playing field, where we joined them.

I looked back in time to see a giant funnel cloud form almost right over us, completely white as it formed, just made of wind. I watched it touch down not far from us and become black as it sucked up all kinds of dirt and debris from the buildings it was destroying. The sound was deafening, and debris was flying all around us.

I was mesmerized. I've always loved storms and I had been in tornados before, but I'd never seen one form and strike. And I was not the only one who pretty much ooh-ed and ahh-ed through the whole experience.

It didn't last long; the tornado moved back into the sky and eventually frittered away. None of us on the softball field or parking lot were hurt that day – scared, yes; excited too, but not hurt – but a block away neighborhoods and community business centers were devastated with a swath of destruction.

The softball games were called off as police and fire trucks were on their way to the neighborhood that was wrecked. A few of us drove over a block away to see the devastation for ourselves before the streets were officially blocked off.

I was no longer mesmerized but had tears in my eyes for the loss of property. As it turned out, thankfully, no one died in that storm that day, but people lost their homes and businesses. Clean up began right away that day as tornados were a fact of life for Okies.

It's hard to fathom that the tornado could have been so close to me and all the other softball fans and players and after it left, the wind died down and it rained a bit; then the sun came out and everything looked normal where we were. But a short block away it looked like a bombed-out war zone.

I know tornados are unpredictable, and there are many stories of how a twister can pick one house out of a whole neighborhood and tear it apart, leaving the others untouched even by twirling debris. Other stories tell of how two people can be hiding in a so-called safe place and one can be sucked up while the other is not hurt. I learned from first-hand experience that day that if your number isn't up, it is possible to enjoy the combined beauty and wrath of Mother Nature's tornados and live to tell about it.

I've seen and been in other tornados since that day – some of my other stories are sure to follow someday in these pages – and I keep lucking out, but that experience in Oklahoma City was and remains the most vivid. I was and am – except for knowing about the resulting devastation – still enthralled at the experience.

It's a definite adrenalin rush, and I can certainly understand the allure of being a storm chaser. And now I live here in earthquake and wildfire country, which are whole other natural and possibly devastating occurrences, and other sources of lucking out stories. Thankfully, I have no hurricane stories at all.

Some other time I think I'll discuss which I think is preferable, to live in tornado country or earthquake country, but for now I'll just say I'm grateful that I've had the experiences I've had, and that, so far, I've lucked out and survived them all.

© 2023 Mel Makaw. Mel is a local writer/photographer and author of the newly published book On the Bright Side, a Collection of Columns (available locally at Tehachapi Arts Center). She welcomes your comments at [email protected].