Tuesday, May 20, 2014

May 20, 2013: A Personal Timeline of the Moore Tornado

It's hard to believe a year has already passed since one of the more trying days I've experienced. I will always remember May 20, 2013 as the day my lifelong love and intrigue of weather hit home -- both figuratively and literally. Here's a chronological look back at a personal timeline of events on that terrible May Monday.

I relay the graphicast and correlating text issued at 248am by the Norman National Weather Service Forecast Office calling for the potential of enhanced severe weather, including tornadoes, for much of central OK.

The NOAA Storm Prediction Center (SPC) issues a mesoscale discussion discussing the likelihood of a tornado watch being issued, including the following text:


A tornado watch is issued covering all of central OK and the OKC metro. I am constantly in contact with Elyse who is at her office in downtown OKC.

Storms rapidly intensify just to the west of the metro and the first severe thunderstorm warning is issued for Cleveland and Oklahoma Counties. I leave work and advise Elyse to stay in downtown as she does not have enough time to beat the storm home.

Photo courtesy of Aaron Tuttle
Elyse calls to tell me she has just left her office (ignoring my request) and is headed south toward our home in Moore -- directly into the path of the storm. I frustratingly tell her to turn back around and go to our friends' apartment downtown.

I arrive at our house near the intersection of SE 4th and Bryant in Moore just before the hail core from the now well-developed supercell reaches it. At the same time, the cell becomes tornado-warned. Moore is directly in the path.

I rush into the house to turn on the local news who at this point have begun to stream live shots of the storm from multiple angles. I also begin rounding up our important documents and Skyler (our yellow lab); trying to decide whether I will shelter in place or leave the house behind should it approach. I attempt to get ahold of our neighbors who have a shelter but am unsuccessful. After deciding there is no proper place in our home to take shelter, I make the decision to pack up the truck.

My focus shifts back to the TV -- watching as a tornado rapidly develops near I-44 in Newcastle (approximately 12 miles WSW of the house), and is quickly growing in size and strength.

The track of the tornado, which once appeared to be moving south of the house, now puts central Moore (and our home) directly in its path. In a matter of seconds, the tornado quickly becomes violent. I set the alarm and start up the truck.

A tornado emergency is issued for Moore and the OKC metro.

I have waited five long minutes in the garage with the door open for the hail to decrease in size adequately enough for me to head out (trying not to lose a windshield). During this time I am listening to live coverage on the radio. The tornado has now entered SW sides of OKC and western sides of Moore. Time to go.

I leave the neighborhood and drive east, deciding the best course of action is to head back to Norman. The next 25 minutes could best be described as emotionally taxing. It is so difficult at this point to get a call through but I am able to get ahold of my Aunt Rita, our State Farm agent (and the agent of many others in Moore and OKC), alerting her of the situation as she is returning from an out-of-town trip. I am also able to reach my parents in Dallas, trying to calmly describe what is going on and the fact Elyse and I are both safe. While on these calls I can hear local meteorologists on the radio pinpointing the block-by-block location and path of the now mile-wide tornado as it is moving through Moore. I've now come to the realization there is a high likelihood of losing our home.

At about 330pm I get back to Norman and run inside with the dog to catch more of the local news coverage. I am able to reach Elyse using the hardline at work -- she is understandably shaken (as am I at this point), after hearing reports the tornado went right over SE 4th and Bryant (very close to our house).

I get this message out via Facebook to family and friends trying to reach us:

A long hour waiting for other storms to clear out of the area. We still don't know the fate of the neighborhood but fear the worst. I continue to post updates on Facebook as cell service is down.

The decision is made to head back toward Moore and attempt to find out the status of the house. It takes over an hour to make the 12 mile drive from the OU campus back into Moore and we are allowed by Moore police to park on the side of SE 4th just west of Sunnylane and then make the 1 mile walk to the neighborhood. I witness the tornado's damage path for the first time in person.

I am shocked and devastated to see the damage along SE 4th St.

We almost make it to the SE 4th and Bryant intersection but are asked to leave the area due to a gas leak. At this point, we still don't know what kind of damage (if any) there was in our neighborhood. I return to the truck and try to access from the north along Bryant.....

I finally make it into the neighborhood, breathing a huge sigh of relief as it was spared. The tornado had narrowed in width on our side of town (half of what it was to the west of I-35) keeping the damage path 3 blocks to our south.

We are so fortunate.


It is difficult to express in words the emotional roller-coaster that took place that day. Going from having come to terms with the fact your house was gone to finding out it had been spared was a lot to take in. Unfortunately, others near us were not so lucky.

The days, weeks, and months that have passed since have demonstrated how tough our community is. Rebuilding is well underway and nearly complete in some areas near us. There is absolutely no doubting the Oklahoma spirit.