Does eight tornadoes in 21 years make this city America’s tornado hot spot?
In this May 20, 2013 file photo, LaTisha Garcia carries her 8-year-old daughter, Jazmin Rodriguez near Plaza Towers Elementary School after a massive tornado carved its way through Moore, Okla., leaving little of the school and neighborhood. This picture, published on hundreds of front pages around the world, has become one of the enduring images from the storm. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)
Moore, Oklahoma, mayor Glenn Lewis is resigned to his area of expertise. He has been the city’s mayor for 25 years, a span during which his city has experienced eight tornadoes, including four rated EF4 or higher on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.
The first tornado Lewis experienced as mayor occurred in 1998, but the deadliest twister occurred the following year, 20 years ago, May 3, 1999. The EF5-rated Bridge Creek-Moore tornado with winds measured at more than 300 mph, devastated Moore, killing 36 people, injuring 583, and causing an estimated $1 billion in damages (in 1999 dollars).
There would be six more tornadoes in the ensuing 20 years in the city of just over 60,000 people. So Lewis knows a little something about tornadoes.
“President Obama used to pass out my card to other mayors and tell them, ‘If you need some help on tornado cleanup, call Glenn,’” Lewis, 63, told AccuWeather in an interview. “I feel like I’m the mayor of ‘Cleanup in Aisle 7.’”
An average of 1,253 tornadoes occur in the U.S. each year, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). There were 1,123 tornadoes in the U.S. in 2018 and so far in 2019 there have been 418 through April 27.
The odds that most Americans will experience a tornado first-hand are extremely low, according to NOAA. Unless, it appears, if you live in Moore, Oklahoma. It is one of a handful of cities in the world to have experienced two EF5-rated tornadoes.
The second one occurred May 20, 2013, killing 24 and injuring 212, with damages estimated at $2 billion. That tornado hit two schools, including Plaza Towers Elementary School, where Lewis raced to assist when he heard the news.
“One thing I learned then is that you shouldn’t go as a first responder if you’re not trained as a first responder,” Lewis said quietly. “Unfortunately, there were dead children … It was really rough.”
The city’s resiliency is routinely on display and its sense of community has enabled it to rebound time-and-time again and, in fact, grow. Despite its tornado history, Moore has expanded from a city of 41,477 in 2000 to 55,397 in 2010 and an estimated 61,523 in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. “Everybody here is nice, we have a low crime rate, and the finest police and fire departments in the country,” Lewis said. “The citizens like it here because it’s a great way of life.”
President Barack Obama tours the destroyed area surrounding the Plaza Towers Elementary School with Moore, Okla., mayor Glenn Lewis, third from left, FEMA administrator W. Craig Fugate, left, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., fourth from left, and Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, right, Sunday, May 26, 2013, in Moore, Okla. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Twenty years after the destructive Bridge Creek-Moore tornado, normalcy will be the order of the day Friday, May 3 in Moore. There will be a city-wide garage sale Thursday through Saturday and a Farmers Market at Central Park on Saturday.
The other day, someone attended a city council meeting with a redevelopment plan for the council to consider. “I don’t think you know anything about redevelopment,” the man told Lewis.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me? This council has waaay too much experience in redevelopment.’ You know, people just don’t know.”
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