National Weather Service Forecast Office is in Norman, Oklahoma; the premier meteorology department in the country is at the University of Oklahoma; and, of course, OKC is ground central for tornadoes. Gary England of Channel 9 is in his seventies and had a starring role in the Hollywood movie Twister, and he was recently featured in a LA Times feature. Gary is often considered the standard bearer for local meteorologists, but in my book, Mike Morgan of KFOR Channel 4 is the best. Imagine my surprise when I read today an article from Reuters that vilifies Mike Morgan for giving "irresponsible" tornado advice last Friday evening during the El Reno F-5 tornado.
My daughter and her husband have recently moved to OKC from Mississippi. They temporarily live at a hotel on SW 15th and Meridian, a place DIRECTLY in the path of the super tornado last Friday night. I was on the phone with our daughter when Mike Morgan described the dimensions of the tornado, the direction of its movement (bearing directly toward our daughter and her husband), and when he declared that if you can't get underground, you need to move SOUTH and get out of the tornado's path. The hotel where our kids live has no shelter, no underground safe place, and I immediately told my daughter and her husband to "get out and move south." They did and I guided them over the phone. Like thousands, they became stuck in traffic and eventually took shelter in a restaurant at SW 59th and May - two miles south and one mile east of their original location. It was a scary, difficult time for us all.
I had just spent several days in Moore helping victims of the May 20 tornado. I was in Moore the night of the May 3, 1999 tornado. I was in Diamondhead, Mississippi within 12 hours of Katrina coming on shore (Diamondhead was ground zero), and I have been at every major tornado disaster in Oklahoma since the mid-1980's. I did not take Mike's advice because Mike said it. I took Mike's advice because I believed it to be best -- and still do. I was in El Reno and Union City within hours after the tornado hit last Friday and I came home Saturday night and told my wife that the El Reno tornado was an F-5 and a worse tornado than the May 20 Moore tornado of eleven days earlier. She didn't believe me. She said the National Weather Service was calling the El Reno tornado an F-3. I assured her it was worse than the Moore tornado. Sure enough, this week the El Reno tornado was classified as the widest tornado in history, and it came just a few miles per hour away from being the strongest tornado ever. As it was, it was super strong F-5 tornado. Had it not dissipated on the west side of OKC, it would have DESTROYED my daughter's hotel. She and her husband would have been just out of the reach of the massive 2 miles tornado in their shelter at SW 59th and May - just barely, but still out of its reach. I believe it was the right decision for my daughter and son-in-law to leave. If you don't have a basement, shelter, or safe place underground, you need to be out of the path of a major tornado. The problem with our kids is they waited almost too late.
Mike Morgan posted on his Facebook that he has shed many tears since last Friday because of the criticism coming his way. Obviously, some wish to blame him for the deaths that occurred, but that's absurd. Pundits and other television stations will continue to vilify him. I will not. Why? Because it is always best to be outside of a tornado's path, and Mike Morgan pinpoints the tornadoes better than anyone else on television and gives precise and accurate information. He did it on May 3, 1999; he did it on May 20, 2013; and he did it on May 31, 2013. He's the best in my opinion. And I don't think I'm the only one who thinks he is the best. Why?
Because the roads were jammed.