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Image courtesy The National Guard.

The Roundup

10 Must-Read Oklahoma Tornado Stories

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Posted 06.07.13

The deadly tornadoes that tore through Oklahoma last month continue to make headlines. The storms—one of them the widest on record—killed two people in northern Cleveland County on the 19th, 24 in Moore on the 20th, and 20 in the El Reno area on the 31st. Hundreds were injured, and those affected are still calculating the damage to property, easily in the millions of dollars.

As the list of writings and reports on the deadly twisters continues to grow, we picked 10 stories that capture the events with solid reporting and powerful storytelling. Set aside some time and give this collection a read.

1. CNN reporter John D. Sutter spent two days walking the 17-mile path of the tornado that ravaged Moore on May 20. He live-tweeted his journey and detailed his experience on an interactive page on the CNN website. The result is as emotional as it is logistical. Sutter introduces readers to survivors and to Oklahoma’s culture of hospitality (and the deviations), offering an unforgettable experience of a storm and its aftermath.

2. Ben Montgomery, a native Oklahoman, wrote about his trip home following the Moore tornado for the Tampa Bay Times. Montgomery’s story is a narrative account of his family’s survival of the storm and their resolve to recover and move forward, amid the rubble and devastation, both physical and emotional.

3. Oklahoma native Rivka Galchen, whose father was a professor of meteorology and mother worked at the National Severe Storms Laboratory in Norman, recalled in The New Yorker an “easy and happy” childhood, despite living in a place where severe weather is a part of life. She didn’t hunker in a basement during storms; instead, she holed up in a building that resembled a giant golf ball, where her mother pored over data to forecast the storm at hand.

4. “Oklahoma City holds the dubious distinction of being the unofficial Tornado Capital of the United States. The U.S. city has endured more tornados than any other—149 officially recorded since 1890… and no less than six tornados in the past month,” Jessica Bloustein Marshall wrote at Mental Floss. She tried to explain the science behind Oklahoma’s frequent tornadic activity (problem is, there’s a lot we don’t know) and to map other tornado hotbeds. (National Geographic took a similar stab at the science behind tornado forecasting.)

5. Though no two tornadoes are identical, Live Science compared the path of the May 20 tornado in Moore to the record-breaking one that hit the same city on May 3, 1999. “Like a pair of deadly snakes, the tracks of yesterday’s twister and the massive 1999 tornado twine across central Oklahoma, even crossing paths,” Becky Oskin wrote. She compared the damage, wind velocity, and the death toll of the two storms.

6. BuzzFeed published a set of compelling photos of El Reno, a town ravaged by a record-setting tornado on May 31. The Atlantic also posted some powerful images, theirs of the Moore tornado.

7. Kurt Hochenauer, founder of the blog Okie Funk, took The Oklahoman to task for its most recent editorial position: Stuff just happens here. Rather than advocate for legislation guaranteeing safety to schools via storm shelters—or anything that would help residents defend themselves against tornadoes—the paper opted instead to say that storms are just a fact of life in Oklahoma. Hochenauer writes: “As the state’s largest newspaper, this editorial indifference to future destruction and death can maintain a cultural tone here that locks in as time unfolds and people forget about that terrible day in 2013 or 2003 or 1999.”

8. Governing wrote about Oklahoma’s response to storms and what the state could—but hasn’t—been done to prevent the massive devastation that comes with them. Though some state lawmakers are lobbying for mandatory storm shelters, they recognize that Oklahoma’s position of rugged individualism and small government at any cost—and its indifference toward the idea of climate change—make legislating on the issue difficult. “I live in a state where people often feel government is not responsible for everything. We haven’t passed anything of the magnitude of the natural disasters that we’ve seen,” said Rep. Jeanie McDaniel, D-Tulsa. “The country will watch how we deal with this. I have to think that we’ll be a little smarter this time around, though I also hope it’s not knee-jerk reactions.”

9. Tony Ortega, former editor for The Village Voice and an expert on all things Scientology, got wind that church members are making their way to Oklahoma from Dallas to offer assistance to storm victims—and to recruit more followers to Scientology.  “So this is also a great dissemination activity and a way to give real Scientology Help to the people of Oklahoma,” noted a call-to-action email, posted on the Underground Bunker. Ortega’s work includes reporting on Scientology’s Oklahoma-based flagship drug and alcohol treatment facility, Narconon Arrowhead.

10. The National Weather Service listed the 10 deadliest tornadoes to hit Oklahoma between 1882 and today. The deadliest struck Woodward on April 9, 1947, killing 116 (and another 68 in Texas). “Because of the Woodward tornado and other devastating tornadoes in the late 1940′s and early 1950s, and because of new technologies available after World War II, the Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) began a tornado watch and warning program in 1953,” the NWS reported. The 1999 tornado that hit Moore was the sixth deadliest.