BY DAVID PERRYMAN
The massive tornado, reportedly over a mile and a quarter wide at one point, moved northeast along a 15 mile path from northwest of Newcastle through what is now part of Moore and swept away at least 30 homes. Thirty-three people were killed with 11 people dying in one home, 6 in a second home and 4 in a third home.
The date was April 25, 1893 and this account, appearing on the website of the National Weather Service described the 8th deadliest tornado in Oklahoma history. The local Norman paper reported that residents of Cleveland County were “scared as they had never been scared before” and that there was “a general scampering about the county” and a “search for caves was generally inaugurated.”
Unfortunately, because of misplaced priorities, over 120 years later, the “search” for “caves” continues. Oklahomans are resourceful people who normally respond proactively to problems that they encounter.
Any death is a tragedy, however the loss of life of students due to our failure to require and provide for storm shelters or safe rooms is not acceptable. So why over the past six score years have we continued to expose school children to death or bodily injury?
It is not as if violent weather is purely a product of the 21st Century.
President Ulysses S. Grant recognized the need for a federal agency to observe atmospheric conditions and predict natural conditions and potential disasters in 1870 when he signed a joint resolution of Congress authorizing the establishment of a national weather service under the oversight of the Secretary of War with the responsibility to “provide for taking meteorological observations at the military stations in the interior of the continent and at other points in the States and Territories...and for giving notice on the northern [Great] Lakes and on the seacoast by magnetic telegraph and marine signals, of the approach and force of storms.”
Throughout the decades, the National Weather Service has progressed from its rudimentary beginnings. It’s part in the first photographed tornado in 1884 in Howard, South Dakota where the main funnel and two smaller vortex were black and portrayed to a curious and amazed national public, a sinister, almost melodramatic tempest, horned and deadly.
In 2013, Doppler and Satellite Technology enables the National Weather Service to provide local meteorologists the information necessary to predict atmospheric instability days in advance and weathermen in May of this year were able to forecast the precise time of storms with 100% accuracy. Morning of the storm reports of “it is not a matter of if or when these storms will form, you should be in your safe place by 4:00 p.m.” signify the advances made in weather service meteorology.
With the National Weather Service providing the data and local television and radio stations communicating the information, literally hundreds of lives are being saved every year. The reliance on the federal government does not end there. During the past 53 months, since January 1, 2009, Oklahoma’s Governor has called upon the President and FEMA for help and has received 56 FEMA disaster declarations. That is more than 1 per month and leads the nation in declarations per capita and per square mile.
By contrast, California with its mudslides and wildfires has had only 27 during that same time period and Florida, that haven of hurricanes has had only 6. New York, Mississippi, Louisiana and Illinois have had 13, 9, 7 and 6 respectively.
FEMA has invested more than $57 milllion in 11,768 private and public safe rooms in Oklahoma.
Today, Oklahoma stands at the threshold of taking another giant leap toward eliminating unnecessary tornado deaths. Governor Fallen estimates that only 100 of the state’s 1752 public schools have storm shelters. With our priorities right, we can take real steps to protect our children. It is time to require that every school in Oklahoma have adequate facilities to protect students and teachers from deadly tornados. Currently, only Alabama has such a law.
It is time to change that. We start by requiring all new construction to contain a safe room or storm shelter and retrofit those schools that do not have shelters. A child’s life is a terrible thing to waste.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as State Representative. If you have questions or comments about this issue or any other matter, please contact me at David.Perryman@okhouse.gov or 405-557-7401.