Oklahomans Weary of Severe Weather

June 17, 2010

Snow shovel? Check.

Tornado shelter? Check.

Insurance agent phone number? Bucket for bailing water? Check and check.

Weather-savvy Oklahomans have grown weary of the worst nature can throw at them. Since Christmas, the state has endured at least two snow storms, two tornado outbreaks, softball-sized hail and flash floods that this week killed a person in Lawton.

“Sure, I’m tired of the weather. But what am I going to do about it?” Greg Davis said as he and some friends emptied his garage of power tools and other items soaked when two feet of water rushed in as heavy rain swamped his lakeside neighborhood in northern Oklahoma City.

“It was a river,” Davis said as he examined piles of waterlogged articles that were stacked up on his driveway. “You couldn’t see the driveway at all. It was all covered.”

Jack Lowry, whose home was flooded by about four feet of water when the Chisholm Creek spilled from its banks and inundated his neighborhood, said even if you avoid one severe weather event you’ll eventually get caught up in another.

“If you grow up in Oklahoma you’re used to extremes,” Lowry said as he heaved soggy carpeting onto a growing pile of debris from his house that filled up part of his front yard. “We missed the hail storm and tornadoes.

“I guess the third time’s the charm and this was the third time.”

One fatality was reported following the June 14 severe thunderstorms, a man who drowned after being swept away while trying to push his stalled car off a roadway in Lawton, said Comanche County Emergency Management Director Chris Killmer.

The body of Miguel Lopez, 50, was found lodged against a bridge over a canal, Lawton Police Chief Ronnie Smith said. The Oklahoma Department of Health also reported 136 minor injuries, but none requiring hospitalization.

The past six months have brought a mix of severe weather events to the state, starting with a blizzard on Christmas Eve that dropped up to 14 inches of snow and was blamed for the traffic-related deaths of nine people.

Also, a storm in March during the weekend of the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments at Oklahoma City and Norman, cutting into attendance at both venues and leaving fans stranded at the airport.

Tornadoes in early May killed three people and severe hail on May 16 destroyed roofs, vehicles and busted north-facing windows at homes throughout Oklahoma City. The tornadoes and hail storm caused an estimated $1 billion in property damage.

Monday’s flash floods prompted more calls to insurance agents, though for many without special coverage insurance policies are unlikely to help.

“I have house insurance because I’m supposed to,” Daniel Parker said as he helped move furniture out of his flooded house. But Parker’s home near Chisholm Creek is not in a flood plain and insurance officials told him he did not need to obtain flood insurance, he said.

“If they tell you it’s something you don’t need, then you don’t do it,” said a clearly irritated Parker.

The thunderstorms forced the closure of some roads and interstates after creeks and rivers toppled their banks. Strong currents ripped asphalt from roadways and blew manhole covers from pipes.

Betty Diehl was house-sitting at her daughter’s home in Oklahoma City when a river of water came down the road.

“The street was rolling,” Diehl said. “I watched it out the window. I said, ‘You could take a boat out there.”‘

Diehl said her daughter’s home, like others in the neighborhood, has suffered through several severe weather events in the last six months.

“We’ve had our share – from ice to hail and now to river,” Diehl said.

“The weather has been crazy here,” said Irene Espinoza, whose office in the Ski Island neighborhood of Oklahoma City was surrounded by water following the storm. “It’s just the way it is. I can roll with it or I can get frustrated by it. I choose to roll with it.”

Others were more philosophical about the state’s reputation for extreme weather.

“I love Oklahoma. It’s just our time,” Leslie Gumble said as disaster relief volunteers from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma ripped soaked carpeting, walls and cabinets from her home and prepared for it to be repaired.

“It’s very shocking,” Gumble said. “But we’re very confident it’s part of God’s plan for us.”

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