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THE CITY REBORN FROM THE ASHES OF AMERICA'S MOST DISASTROUS FOREST FIRE
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Tales from the old-timer

Life in Tornado Alley

By Jane Thibodeau Martin,

daughter of the Old-Timer



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One of the most frequent questions I get about life in Oklahoma is the risk of tornadoes. When we began looking for a house here my biggest shock was that there were no basements. I couldn’t believe that an area that has weather evoking “The Wizard of Oz” didn’t have residential basements. Frankly, the people we talked to didn’t seem too concerned about that, and were more interested in asking how on earth we survived the winters in Wisconsin.

We eventually bought a steel-framed brick home, but without a basement. We did invest in a weather radio, put our phones into the storm warning system, and began to adapt. The first time I put my children on a school bus during a day of “Tornado Watch” weather, I was very uncomfortable, but in time we’ve gotten used to the risk. Honestly, in an average year more people die on winter road accidents in Wisconsin than die from severe weather here.

This year, of course, we made the national news when poor Moore, Oklahoma, was hit with an EF5 storm for the THIRD time. I am sure you saw the shocking pictures of the carnage. I myself would probably not rebuild in a city that seems to be a tornado magnet. Weather experts say it’s nothing to do with geography or anything other than bad luck, but you have to wonder. The Native Americans say Tulsa is protected by the presence of the Arkansas River. Experts pooh-pooh that also, but I like to believe it’s true, and fortunately, we’ve never had a tornado in our neighborhood.

We did find torn-up photos on the grounds of my employer the day after the storm, apparently carried there by high-level winds from Moore more than one hundred miles away as the crow flies. Despite the fact we had heavy rains during the night, the photos were perfectly dry.

On those nights (it’s almost always around 6-9 p.m. or so) that it looks like we are at risk we put things away outside, turn on the excellent weather coverage, prepare our generator and call our kids to ensure everyone sticks close to home. We watch the sky, listen for the sirens and are ready to shelter in place in an interior room with no windows. I can assure you most Tulsans go about their normal business and do not show much concern at these times. We are not afraid, just ready.

On the other hand, we watch with bemusement when we get snow in the winter. The first year we were here the schools closed for FIVE days for about 3 inches of snow. Most people refuse to drive (a good thing, based on what we see) and hunker down as though they expect to be snowbound for a week. Meanwhile, the Martins continue their normal lifestyle, slightly cramped by the fact nearly all businesses are closed for the duration.

The science of risk is of great interest to me because of my profession. What I conclude from this situation is you get used to a risk, and don’t fear it. A situation you are not used to causes fear.


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Peshtigo, WI 54157
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