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Close Calls and Near Misses with Tornadoes

As a TV Stormtracker, I have seen several communities have some very close calls with tornadoes in recent years. These communities are extremely lucky they did not take a direct hit by a tornado. Several of these tornadoes occurred after dark. The storms I’m about to talk about are storms I chased, so I can give a first-hand account of these events. The communities include, Enid, North Enid and Kremlin, OK, Jet and Medford OK, Canton and Fairview OK, Hennessey, Byron-Amorita, and Manchester, OK, and finally Hennessey and Stillwater, OK.

April 25, 2009: The infamous North Enid and Home Show tornado. I was staged at Garland and Owen K. Garriott just before 10 pm after a very long chase day in western Oklahoma. A severe thunderstorm was over Enid at that time when a tornado warning was issued with strong rotation about 4 miles southwest of Enid. I basically circled Enid from Atwood’s to Southgate to 30th Street, north to Breckenridge Rd and then west into North Enid. I watched a rotating wall cloud, well illuminated by the city lights; pass right over the heart of Enid. Just before it exited, I saw power flashes straight west of me. The tornado touched down in the parking lot of the Garfield County Expo Center. It would be a stretch to call this a close call because it did do damage in North Enid, however, if this storm would have produced a tornado just 5 minutes earlier it would have created significant and extensive damage. So for Enid you could call it a close call. For North Enid, not so much a close call. Storm #2 came into the area well after midnight and produced a damaging tornado a mile or two west of Kremlin. This was a strong tornado, and had it moved into Kremlin I can’t imagine the damage.

April 30, 2012:  An extremely close call for Medford, OK. I began chasing this storm in the daylight 8 miles west of Jet, OK where it produced its first of many tornadoes. The storm produced its 2nd tornado just 2 miles west of Jet right in front of us on Hwy 64 as we traveled east toward Jet. The storm then produced its 3rd tornado northwest of Jet, when it became somewhat rain wrapped as it moved toward Salt Plains Lake and Nescatunga, OK. We lost sight of that one and let it go as the storm was now producing a new wall cloud northeast of Jet. It became dark and we were moving north on the “Red Hill Road” south of Hwy 11. Tornado #4 was now on the ground and doing damage north and slightly west of us. As we are focusing on that tornado, a new and larger rotating wall cloud was now southwest of Medford to our east. We traveled east on Hwy 11 toward Medford and saw tornado #5 (maybe 6 or 7, it is now dark). Lightning back lit the tornado several times as it seemed to be moving into Medford. At one time we saw a very large debris cloud and our worst fears seemed to be realized. However, the tornado could not have been any closer to Medford without actually hitting the town directly. It skirted the western edge of town moving north and then turned northeast just north of town. It did do damage around Medford, but the residents avoided a direct hit.

May 24, 2011: Canton and Fairview, OK. The first of 2 tornadoes formed only a 1.5 miles west of Canton just north of Hwy 51. It moved east northeast toward the northern sides of town before turning a little more north and traveling across Canton Lake. This tornado broadened out in to a wedge about as quickly as any tornado I’ve ever seen. If that wedge had moved into Canton, it would have been devastating. As it was, it was devastating for the people who lived and were camping at the Canadian Boat Dock and camping area. That tornado, I believe stayed on the ground almost continuously until it dissipated about 4 miles west of Fairview near and just north of Cedar Springs. This same storm then produced tornado #2 just 2 miles southwest of Fairview. This tornado was an elephant trunk with a small but strong circulation on the ground. It quickly dissipated before reaching Fairview, but my fear was that it would become as strong as the Canton tornado and move into Fairview. The rotating wall cloud however, moved right over the top of Fairview and could have easily produced another one. Canton and Fairview avoided a disaster that day.

May 19, 2010: Hennessey and Stillwater, OK. This storm was a tornado producing machine. The first tornado was brief and weak, but on the ground 8 miles south of Okeene, OK. Tornado #2 touched down just 2 miles west of Hennessey and ½ mile north of Hwy 51. The tornado was on the ground for several minutes before dissipating a mile west of Hwy 81. This storm moved straight east toward Stillwater and produced another prominent tornado (#3) about a mile east of I-35 and a mile north of Hwy 51. After tornado #3, I witnessed 5 or 6 brief touchdowns between I-35 and Stillwater. It looked imminent that Stillwater would have a strong tornado move into town. But it did not happen, to the luck of people living in Stillwater.

April 14, 2012: Close calls for several communities: Cherokee, Byron-Amorita, and Manchester, OK. I witnessed a lot of tornadoes this day. The storm of the day however, produced tornado #2 south of Waynoka, Ok and at the same time tornado #3. We had 2 tornadoes on the ground for several minutes. The storm went on to produce another one south of Alva and west of Dacoma, OK. Things got more serious however southwest of Cherokee. A strong tornado was produced but traveled north narrowly missing Ingersoll. The storm then produced what appeared to be a very large and strong tornado just south southwest of the small towns of Byron and Amorita. It was getting quite dark and difficult to see, but I had a strong fear that these two communities were about to be struck by a violent tornado. I do not know how it missed them. The storm then produced another tornado 2 west of Manchester where it did heavily damage a farm house. This storm went on to produce more tornadoes in Kansas and near Wichita late into the night.

So what is the point of this writing? These are only accounts of storms I witnessed first-hand in recent years, in which I believed people in these communities were in imminent danger. Enid Storm Shelters has installed a lot of tornado shelters in the past year in north central and northwest Oklahoma. I know where every one of them is located, and I get some comfort from knowing people have a place of protection. If you do not have a storm shelter to protect your family, you should seriously consider installing one. We offer below ground shelters for the garage or yard, and above ground safe rooms for the garage, patio, or yard. We have had luck on our side the past few years, but I fear our luck will run out someday. Maybe this spring!

Mike Bennett

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