OKLAHOMA’S TERRIBLE TWISTERS by CHERYL PIERSON

Growing up here in Oklahoma, every spring was the same story—tornado season. My dad would carry me out on the front porch with him to watch the clouds. He’d talk about them, and command the thunder to roar! The lightning to flash! Looking back on it now, I understand that he was trying to teach me not to be afraid of the weather, and it worked. And maybe he was trying not to be afraid, too.

In those days, there was little to no warning before the storm hit. In today’s world, so many improvements and inventions have come along that our weathermen can pinpoint the minute the storm will hit a certain area. There is round the clock coverage on the three major stations when we are in a severe weather watch. They also broadcast from sister-station radio channels, in case you’re not near a television or are in a storm shelter. Doppler radar is one of the greatest life-saving inventions that ever happened, in my opinion.

Every elementary school child here is trained in our “tornado drills” just as they are trained in fire drills. How well I remember the hardships of trying to crouch on our knees, bowed over next to the walls in the hallway! At that time, most little girls wore dresses. Our biggest worry was trying to hold our dress down so no one could see our underwear.

Most families here don’t have storm shelters or cellars.  Most houses don’t have basements. Our home was no exception—no basement and no cellar.  Our water table is so high here that it’s hard to keep the dampness and/or flooding out. Even the pre-fab shelters are sometimes prone to leaking water.

One of my enduring memories was of the time when I was about five years old and we were caught at my grandparents’ just before the storm hit. They had an old root cellar—dug out of the red Oklahoma dirt, with an old tin door that my grandfather had made, and some cinder block steps that led down into the darkness. I remember my mother not wanting to go down into the cellar for some reason. When I got down there, I understood. My grandfather lit a kerosene lamp and we could see spiders…There was an old cot against the wall, and Mom and I sat down on it. Across the cellar, no more than 5 feet away, there were rough shelves that my grandmother’s jars of canned goods lined. And in the space between two jars…two eyes looked out at me.

“Look, Mom…there are eyes looking at us,” I said. In the next few seconds, I found out something about my granddad I would never have suspected. He could move like the lightning above us outside! He had everyone stand to one side, and he took up a hoe and an axe from the corner (hmmm….this must have happened before down there!) and quick as anything, he had that snake out of the shelf and on the floor with its head chopped off.  I learned later it was a copperhead.

Public shelters? Few and far between. Liability is a huge responsibility that no one wants to assume. And in these sue-happy days, it’s a very real possibility that organizations who are just trying to be good neighbors and offer safety could lose everything to one lawsuit. This is true of governmental and private organizations alike. Another fear, quite justified, is the fact that many people trying to get to a shelter create a traffic jam and are sitting ducks.

In light of all the tragedy that has happened lately here in our great state, I’m relieved to learn that FINALLY there is some positive action being made toward outfitting our schools with a safe place for the kids and teachers to be. That should have been done long, long ago. Of course, it’s all a matter of money. It’s expensive to do. But what price can we put on a child’s life?

I guess we can say that is the “silver lining” to all this. Thanks to each and every one of you who has kept us in your thoughts and prayers. There is still a great need for help and healing, but what a country we live in! I’m so proud to be an American. We have our differences, but when tragedy strikes, no one stands together like we do. I’m so thankful for that.

This is one of the most touching pictures I’ve seen. It reminds me of how, someway, there’s always someone who manages to fly Old Glory in the direst of circumstances and remind us that we are all just human beings, trying to make it in this world, helping one another when our world is literally ripped away from us. There has been such an outpouring of love and help from all over not only our own nation, but other countries as well, and yet–for whatever reason, we are always surprised and humbled that other care so much.

Last but not least, I leave you with a picture of one of my favorite Oklahomans, Miranda Lambert, married to another favorite Oklahoman, Blake Shelton. Blake organized a benefit concert and got tons of performers, not just fellow Okies in the business–to come out and give their all for our ravaged state. God bless them all!

Cheryl Pierson
A native Oklahoman, I've been influenced by the west all my life. I love to write short stories and novels in the historical western and western romance genres, as well as contemporary romantic suspense! Check my Amazon author page to see my work: http://www.amazon.com/author/cherylpierson
I live in Oklahoma City with my husband of 40 years. I love to hear from readers and other authors--you can contact me here: fabkat_edit@yahoo.com
Follow me on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cheryl.pierson.92
http://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules

34 Comments

  1. This was very interesting and I’m glad you brought to light some questions that many people have been wondering. I can’t imagine growing up with the tornadoes, but I’m glad to hear that people learn early on about them and what to do to protect themselves. In Texas, we have our share of tornadoes, but not to the extent of what Oklahoma gets. My first memory was crouched down in the school hallway as one went over us. Unfortunately, the cries and screams of the other kids still comes back to haunt me when we get bad storms. By the way, I am originally from New York, so I have a huge fear of tornadoes (even though I’ve lived here almost 40 years).

  2. Great post! We were all sharing our tornado experiences during our critique group meeting the other night. Although we live in a section of the midwest where the frostline almost guarantees a basement. (Houses without basements seem weird to me!)

  3. Cheryl, my heart goes out to you and your family and all the people in Oklahoma. I grew up in hurricane country (the Florida east coast) so I understand the need for a healthy respect of storms. My beach town is below sea level, so no basements either. I pray your state sees no more tornados!!! Stay safe!!!!

  4. Loved this post, Cheryl! Your dad was wise to teach you not to be so afraid of the weather and how to protect yourselves when Mother Nature raged. And I loved the cellar story–spiders and snakes! Yikes!!

  5. What a storm season, Cheryl. It’s just been relentless. I keep hoping it’s over!

  6. We used to go to the basement when we were kids. I remember one morning waking up to talk (I have 7 brothers and sisters) about everyone going to the basement in the night.
    I’d been left upstairs asleep.
    Why?
    My mom said she didn’t really believe the storm was that bad but I guess thunder had woken several of my sibs and they were scared and mom and dad took them down……AND LEFT ME!!!!!!!!
    Maybe she left several of us. Anyone who didn’t wake up.
    I’m getting annoyed as I type. MOM!!!!!!!!!????? What’s up with leaving me upstairs!!!!!!!

  7. Cheryl, that story about the snake made my hair stand on end. Growing up in a tornado zone has to give people a unique perspective on life and danger.
    My heart goes out to the ones whose lives were changed by the recent storms. Hoping and praying the worst is over for all of you. Hugs, Filly sister.

  8. Mary, don’t feel too bad. When I was kid, I slept on the main level and my parents had the room upstairs. I told my mom that I was scared because if someone broke into the house they’d kill me first.

    My mom said, “If that actually did happen, at least you’d go first and you wouldn’t have to see the rest of us die. Doesn’t that make you feel better?”

    NO.

    I didn’t understand the parental sense of humor until I had children of my own…

  9. Cheryl, thanks for sharing that. I, too, have always lived in tornado alley. Tornadoes are a reality. I was smack in the middle of the 1979 tornado in Wichita Falls. We didn’t have a cellar or basement. So we practiced what we’d always been told. We laid down in the hallway. My kids were all small back then. My youngest was just a baby. My husband and I laid on top of the kids…and prayed. The roar kept getting closer and closer and I was so afraid that we were all going to die. After it was over we climbed out from under boards and roofing and couldn’t believe our eyes. It looked like a bomb went off. Our house and all our belongings were gone. All we’d managed to scrape and save was gone. But we didn’t much care at that moment. We were happy and thankful to be alive. I hope that’s the last one I’m ever in but who knows. I may have to repeat all that tomorrow.

    Sending love and prayers to all the storm-ravaged state and the people whose lives were left in shambles. I hope you’ve seen the last of those storms this year. God knows, you deserve the break.

  10. Janine,
    I totally understand how people from other places would be scared out of their minds. I have a friend whose husband is a police officer. He is from PA, and she told me once that out of everything he had to face on a daily basis, tornadoes were the thing that got him the most. She told me what he’d do about putting on a helmet, long sleeve shirt, shoes, long pants…I told her that’s what you’re SUPPOSED TO DO. But it was odd to her that he took such precautions. I remember thinking my husband might not like it here in OK since he’s from WV, but we’ve been here nearly 30 years now, and he’s adapted well. LOL He’s pretty calm. On the other hand, my middle sister (10 years older than I) was always afraid of storms. I do think a lot of it is how the adults around you act when storms approach, too. My mom was always a worrier, so that might have been where my sister Karen got her fear. So glad you stopped by!
    Cheryl

  11. Sherri,
    When we lived in WV, it was hard to find a house where there wasn’t a basement. Never being raised with a basement, I have to say, I’m creeped out by them–but I’m sure if I had one I’d be thankful when the storms were overhead! LOL

    That cracked me up about your mom’s comment. That sounds like something my dad would have said.

    Cheryl

  12. Renee,

    You know exactly what I’m talking about then! I know that hurricanes can wreak their own kind of disaster. We keep an eye out every time one moves toward our shores, and keep watch on it. I always worry about those people who refuse to leave when they know it’s going to be so awfully strong.
    Cheryl

  13. Oh, Pam, I will just never forget looking over and seeing those yellow eyes staring out at me. I think him killing the snake was scarier to me than the storm. LOL My dad’s mom was a nervous wreck when it came to storms. I’ve often wondered if he was too, inside, and just did what he did about taking me onto the porch, etc. to try and calm himself. He never showed he was worried or afraid, though.
    Cheryl

  14. Mary,
    I can soooooo relate! My mom left me at the grocery store one time when I was about 5! She had asked me if I wanted to go with her and I couldn’t decide, but finally said I would. They had a magazine stand in this store with lots of little kids’ books on the racks, and she left me there to look at the books. Well, after a while, I started getting bored. I went to look for her and couldn’t find her. The front of the store was all glass, and I wasn’t really worred about not finding her yet, but all of a sudden, I see my Dad tearing into the parking lot and coming right up to the door. He jumped out of the car and Mom was following him, but he was running. I started crying because THEN I realized that she had been gone and I’d been there all alone! LOLLOL It was a joke later on in our family about her leaving me, but I know she felt terrible about it, and just didn’t realize since I’d said I didn’t want to go at one point. Still…wow, how sad to be so forgettable! LOLLOL You’re my kindred spirit now. I wonder how many others something like this has happened to?
    Cheryl

  15. Thank you, Elizabeth. They’re saying we are looking at the possibility of more severe weather today/tomorrow, but I am soooo hoping they’re wrong. We need a break.

    Yes, I think it does give you a different perspective, for sure. But it seems like so many parts of our country have different things that they just “live with”–the hurricanes that Renee mentioned, and in Tanya’s part of the world, I know they have fires. Earthquakes, flooding (which we had some of with the tornadoes–that killed several people who were trying to take shelter in a drainage ditch.)

    And of course, you know me–I think there are something like 87 animals that have not been reunited with their families yet. We have several wonderful vets who are treating these animals for free.

    But my heart goes out especially to those families who lost children. That’s the saddest for me. Thank you for your caring concern, my filly sis!

    Cheryl

  16. God bless you, Linda. That had to be the scariest thing that could ever have happened, especially with the kids. Thank the Good Lord you all survived it. It’s easy to say, “It’s just things” when we sit in our living room and see it on tv, everyone’s possessions being thrown around and destroyed and lost–but I just can’t imagine having to start all over from scratch and to lose all my pictures, etc. You are one strong lady, Linda!

    Yes, take care–we usually get the storms that start out your way and head east.I’ll be thinking about you. Thanks so much for sharing this story with us. My hat’s off to you. That’s amazing.

    Cheryl

  17. I grew up with the dirt cellars also and more than once we found a rattle snake in there. Mom always kept her canning in the cellar. We were so happy the day the cellar fell in.

  18. Cellars, snakes and tornados must just go together. When we were first married we lived in an OLD farm home with a dug out cellar below it. I hated that creepy place but because of weather had to enter it at least once a tornado season. And almost every time I would see a snake. Never mind that it was just a little ole garter snake. I HATE SNAKES! Fortunately my husband always went first wiping away webs and corralling the snakes into a huge glass jar kept just for that. He would carry the jar outside and release the snakes after danger was passed.

  19. Dear Cheryl – thanks for this beautiful blog. The pictures are hard to look at, but nothing more than we’ve all seen on television. Miranda and Blake are inspirations, I watched the show and made my donation to help Oklahoma. I live in earthquake country, but tornadoes surely seem scarier to me. I hope and pray all those in OK can find peace and rebuild their lives. Love and hugs to you.

  20. Hi Cheryl, what an amazing, touching post. I was so terrifically worried during the tornadoes, thinking of you and praying you and yours were safe…and will always be. Hugs and prayers to all in your great state! Love you dearly, my friend.

  21. Goldie, it’s a wonder that more people weren’t bitten just reaching up to the shelf to get a jar of something, isn’t it? I still remember that day, and will til I die, I suppose. And I still think I might rather have taken my chances outside that cellar. (I know my mom would–I still remember her being chalky white.)LOL
    Cheryl

  22. Connie,
    My dad worked in the oilfields as a chemical engineer here in OK all his life, and he’d carry a glass jar with him to bring home stuff to me to see–tarantulas, snakes, you name it. It was always a great thing to take for show & tell, so I wasn’t truly afraid of them, but I had a respect for them. But that experience in the cellar was sure one I’ll never forget. God love your husband for being so good about taking care of the “critters” before you had to go down into the cellar. LOL He sounds like a winner.
    Cheryl

  23. Char, thank you so, so much for your kindness and caring. It seems like this has been the very worst weather we’ve ever had as long as I’ve been alive. The death toll is now close to 90 and they’re saying that it will be more than that before it’s all over because of the people who are still unaccounted for. God bless our talented stars here who call Oklahoma home, and those who just came to help out, on the concert. Vince, Toby, Garth, Reba, Miranda, Blake, Joe Diffee (remember him?)–all from OK. And our NBA basketball team, the OKC THUNDER, with so many of those guys helping–Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant–too many to mention. I think that’s the silver lining–seeing everyone working together for the good of those who lost everything material and those who lost loved ones. Bless you for donating to help, too! The rebuilding is going to take a long long time.
    Cheryl

  24. Tanya, thanks so much for your thoughts and prayers. This has been a really rough year so far weather wise and usually May is our worst month, but tornadoes can happen anytime the conditions set up right for them.

    Thanks so much for stopping by, I know you are busy as heck.
    Cheryl

  25. Very interesting Cheryl. I’m so glad you were safe. I too lived in OK. for quite a number of years.Went through a lot of Tornado warnings. Started out in Texhoma, OK. in the TX. Panhandle where my folks moved to in 1947. We too, had a dirt cellar. I remember going in there at times to get sweet potatoes. It was a scary place to me. Then when I lived in Marlow, OK. same thing. I had two little ones and lived in a trailor home. The people across the street had a storm cellar. One day I got up and we had a near miss from a Tornado and I was asleep and didn’t even hear the warning siren. When my mom found out about it she fussed at me about not going to that cellar. I told her even if I had heard it I had 2 babies to gather , and by the time I could get across the street, might not have been able to get in. But, GOD was with us. Then I lived in KS. for 15 years. There were lots but not too close to us. We did have a bad flood tho, that was very destructive. Water was up to the window of our car. And with my home up off the ground a good way, got knee deep. We lost a lot. I have family in OKC. granddaughters and families,, and a niece with kids and grands. I thank GOD they were all safe. MAXIE

  26. Cheryl, thank you for sharing. It’s been a scary year and it’s hard to imagine what you all are going through. I experienced two tornadoes; one in Florida and one in (of all places) Manhattan. We were cruising around the island in a boat when suddenly a huge wave washed over the decks and we got drenched. We didn’t even know what hit us until that night when we saw the news on TV and all the damage it had done. That was enough for me. Stay safe everyone!

  27. Maxie, you have had some experiences! I remember one year staying with my sister (the one who was so afraid of the storms) and her two little ones. We were in a trailer, and in a very very small town, Calera, down by the OK/TX border in southeastern OK. We both thought we were going to be smack in the middle of the tornado, but had no place to go. That was one scary time, but as you say, God was with us, too, and everything was all right. Even though I lived in a trailer in WV, I’d never do it here in OK if I could help it. They’re trying to pass a law now for trailer parks to HAVE to provide a storm shelter. I hope it come into being–it seems like those mobile home parks are always getting hit, doesn’t it? Thanks for coming by! I’m glad your family was okay in this last round of storms, too!
    Cheryl

  28. Margaret–THAT needs to go in a story! Manhattan????? WOW. I always felt safe from tornadoes when I lived in WV–they do have bad storms though, up in that part of the country. Last year we had gone out for our family reunion (my husband’s) and the night before the reunion, Charleston and the metro area got hit so hard with driving rain, hail and straight line winds that nearly everyone had no power. I can’t remember how many were killed, but there were some fatalities. It can happen anywhere, I guess!
    Cheryl

  29. I was raised in the Joplin, MO area but became an OKIE after attending OSU and then marrying one. It seems I’ve always lived in Tornado Alley – having to jump off the tractors & run to the celler. But I still wouldn’t live elsewhere!

  30. Thanks for a very informative post and glad you and your family are okay. I’m from Michigan and one of my earliest memories is of my dad making us all go to our “Michigan basement,” which is kind of a dirt cellar, during a bad storm. My mom was holding me and I wanted to get down but there was water on the floor. My grandma and our dog refused to go down there. I don’t blame them! Wouldn’t be surprised if there were snakes. I think that might have been the year tornadoes struck the other side of our state. That was nearly 60 years ago. I hope and pray the worst of the bad weather is over for this year.

  31. That cellar sounds like the one we had growing up in MO. My dad also taught me about clouds and storms. My sister and her family live in Tulsa, and it is a worry for me.

  32. Melody, I wouldn’t either! LOL Every part of the country has some kind of weather to “look out” for, I think. This is home. Thanks for coming by!
    Cheryl

  33. Lucy, doesn’t that just make you cringe to think about it as an adult! I know going down in those places was the only alternative but I don’t know but what I wouldn’t rather take my chances above ground in some cases. Thanks for sharing that memory–seems a lot of us have those kinds of memories, doesn’t it? LOL
    Cheryl

  34. Martha, you know we never had a cellar in my growing up days, and I guess it was a blessing because I am not sure my mom would have gone down into one after that experience at my grandparents’ house.
    Cheryl

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