My First Tornado

It seemed like just another school day in the eighth grade at Nimitz Jr. High on December 5, 1975. I had the usual run of classes & teachers that I liked, and others that were simply tolerated. It was basically a run-of-the-mill day until I got into my science class. Of course, being in science class interested me anyway but what really caught my eye were the number of towering cumulus I could see outside. Otherwise known (in Latin, where most cloud names originated) as cumulus congestus. For early December, this was unusual. After getting home from school, I grabbed my trusty transistor radio, my Oklahoma county map that I used to document storms, warnings, etc. on with colored pencils, my binoculars, and that Kodak 110 Instamatic camera I took so many of my first cloud photos with. I headed out into the backyard and waited. The storms seemed to be building off to my east. Before long, I heard something that caught me totally by surprise. A Tornado Warning had been issued for Tulsa county. At that time, radar was not always reliable in detecting the ‘hook echo’ indicating a tornadic storm. Also, it was the norm for a tornado warning to be issued only after a tornado had been confirmed to be ‘one the ground.’ I knew that my view to the northeast would be unobstructed from my bedroom so I ran upstairs and looked out. Several miles to the northeast I could see the off-white ghostly color of the upper portion of the tornado. At that time it was probably close to entering the mature stage of it’s lifecycle. Did my camera work? No. Film jammed or something and I didn’t get a photo. But for at least three minutes I had a clear view of my first tornado. Needless to say, I was transfixed and fascinated. Fortunately, there we no fatalities, but around 35 injuries resulted from the tornado. Two days later, I went to the area to look at the damage and was amazed at what I saw. Those photos still exist and, though of poor quality compared to today’s cameras, they’re some of my most treasured photos. It was an amazing and unexpected experience, especially to have occurred twenty days before Christmas! Perhaps the most difficult realization is how quickly the years have passed. Thirty-four years. Where did the time go? And, in the process of becoming a ‘responsible, mature adult’, what happened to the wide-eyed awe and wonder I used to possess? I think it’s there somewhere, buried under the burdens of my current state of existence. But at least I have the memories of that day…and can do my best to resurrect the feelings of wonder about the universe we live in.

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