Thirty-five years ago today, I was an eighth grade student at Nimitz Jr. High. I was going full steam in my interest in all things meteorological. I remember in my last class, which was science if my memory doesn’t fail me, looking out the window and taking note of some towering cumulus. It seemed rather odd for a December day, but not unheard of. After going home, I was in my parent’s backyard with my radio, camera, binoculars, and clipboard with a map of Oklahoma counties. The storms I watched quickly developed into supercells, not a term or structure that I knew of at the time. Shortly before 5:00 p.m., I heard a tornado warning being issued by the Tulsa National Weather Service. Naturally I’m thinking, “Nah…must be a mistake.” Well, I was wrong.
From my second story bedroom window on the north side of the house, I had a rather unobstructed view to the northeast. Only the roof of a neighboring house cut off my view of the horizon. I looked toward the part of Tulsa where the tornado had been reported…and there it was. From the mesocyclone on a classic supercell, I could see the upper 1/2 of an off-white condensation funnel. At that point, it was likely in it’s mature stage and in the process of damaging approximately 200 plus homes, businesses, apartments, and about twenty aircraft at a small airport. Needless to say, I was riveted. It’s moments like this that a teenager eager with curiosity and wonderment dream of. I was looking at my first tornado.
After several minutes has passed, what was probably scud and part of the flanking like began to obscure the funnel. Fortunately, the vortex began to rope out and dissipate at about the same time. Unfortunately, my 110 Kodak Instamatic camera didn’t function and for whatever reason, the photos I took didn’t come out & I have no photo record of the event. Nevertheless, it was a spectacular and special event in my teen years.
For the record, this tornado was rated on the old Fujita scale as F4. The path length was less than two miles, but it did a substantial amount of damage. A few days after the tornado, my parents drove me to the area and I took my first photos of storm damage. It was an amazing experience…certainly one I’ll cherish forever. It’s moments like that in the life of a person that make you love even more the very thing that you’re interested in.