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Moore, Oklahoma

The Tornado NEXT Time.......will not be different

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, May 22, 2013.

Oklahoma, which pokes Colorado in its southeast corner, became a state the hard way, involving concentration camps for Native Americans, land grabs and land rushes, and agricultural and oil scandals of the sort that raise the eyebrows in Dallas and Chicago. But all of Oklahoma's sins can be said to have been paid off by living in the worst section of Tornado Ally in the nation, by which is meant the world. It's always a summer horror but in the years of debated Climate Change, getting much, much worse in Okieville.

This week, a terrifying tornado with a funnel circumference of 1 to 2 miles - and let's just picture that for a second to calibrate the correct state of horror - was confirmed to be an F5, the strongest tornado rating known to exist. An F5 tornado has winds from 261 to 318 mph, and compose - thank God - less than one tenth of one percent of tornadoes. Let's quickly review. A funnel two miles in diameter composed of 318 mph winds. Get it? Got it? Good.

To be a hurricane, a tropical storm has to have sustained winds of 74 mph, and the biggest hurricanes, Category 5's, have sustained winds of 157 mph. They cover many square miles and last a long time and do more damage than a tornado, even a big one, but for comparison try this out. The most expensive hurricane, Andrew, hit Florida twenty years back with sustained winds of 175 mph. So, double that wind and compress it into a two mile wide funnel. Got it? That's what hit Oklahoma this week.

There were other tornadoes as well, up to seven around Oklahoma City, and some hit at night where you cannot see them but can hear them. I don't think I scare easy, I really don't, but that scares me.

Things vanish in tornadoes. They get sucked up into the funnel, way up, and they can be dumped far away. Sometimes there is nothing to dump, really, because you are in a atmospheric garbage disposal unit with ripped apart metal that's very sharp and wood and animals with all tissue ripped from the bones that become blades as well, and it's like going through a deli slicer. Blood just dissolves into the mist of dust, rain, and debris, and when anything to be recognized as once human hits the ground, it may not last long with birds and animals.

People in Oklahoma know all this and know the chances are not low for them to encounter these babies in their lives, perhaps several times. The big one hit Moore, Oklahoma in the day time, when kids were still in school. Teachers flung their charges into the safest portions of the building and jumped atop them to keep them from ascent. They were surprisingly successful.

What annoys is that there is zero law requiring schools to have substantial storm cellars. You know, the heavy concrete babies below ground that even an F5 cannot gouge out. So teachers have to judge where the safest part of existing structures are - and that's entirely notional in an F5 - and herd the terrified kids there. A hallway. A bathroom. Closets under a staircase, wherever. Same in most homes, as it happens. Oklahoma is near devoid of storm cellars.

The reason is that Oklahoma has rock not far below the surface and it is expensive to build those cellars and shelters. They don't seem to add much to the value of a home, realtors tell us. And statistically, the chances of meeting a tornado in your life aren't all that high, even in Tornado Ally.

When disaster strikes, it seems to me that parents, hearing that the kids are in the school, ought to breathe a sigh of relief rather than the forced smile of dubious hope. It also strikes me that school buildings ought to be designed and built to withstand easily predicted possibilities, like tornadoes in Oklahoma and hurricanes in Florida. And the feds, states, and insurance companies ought to make it easy for school districts and towns to afford this. If it encourages stronger and better school structures atop the cellar, great, but at least the base would exist for a quicker rebuild. By which I mean, it isn't a bauble and it makes long term financial sense.

There's talk of mandating storm cellars now, just as after hurricanes in Florida, people demand better house construction. Never happens, though.

Likely that the children killed in Moore with terrified teachers atop them died in vain. I'd like not to write that sentence again.