Six Takeaways from Tulsa’s Stormageddon of 2023
As the sirens screamed, my six-year-old grandson slept peacefully beside me, oblivious to the noise. When the meteorologist said the storm was a few miles away, my husband scooped up our sleeping boy and placed him on the closet floor I had prepared with blankets, pillows, and bicycle helmets. Callister drowsily woke up as I strapped his helmet on his head. We explained what was happening and reassured him we would all be OK. We turned on our flashlights when the lights went off, thinking the power would return in minutes, possibly hours. I had no idea the level of destruction that was occurring outside our house as we huddled together in the closet.
Callister told his mom the following day that his grandparents would sacrifice their lives for him. Of course, that’s true, but I laughed at how dramatic it sounded – until we looked outside. The main reason we chose a house in this neighborhood was to be within walking distance of our grandkids. The bonus was the big, old beautiful trees in this neighborhood that was established in the 1950s. We woke up to the heartbreaking sight of many of the big, old trees destroyed. There were entire trees uprooted, in addition to limbs and branches thrown about, and they were blocking roads, hitting power lines, and on the roofs of houses.
I was terribly mistaken regarding the severity of the storm. The damage transformed Tulsa into a post-apocalyptic scene. Traffic lights were out (Tulsans have no idea how to do four-way stops!), people were in dark, hot houses, there was limited cell phone connection in many areas, and there were long lines because of the scarce availability of gasoline. Ice became the most popular item at convenience stores, and the supply ran out quickly.
Many of us endured a miserable, hot week of no power, and some even a few days longer. As with the unforgettable Tulsa ice storm of 2007, I learned a few things about myself, my city, and my neighborhood. These are my six takeaways from the storm.
1. Neighbors are important!
My neighborhood is the best! We have only lived here five months, but we already knew we loved it. The aftermath of the storm only solidified that feeling. Neighbors worked together to clear our impassable road of limbs and branches. Neighbors checked on each other and offered information and assistance, bonding over the shared experience. The community support made me feel much less isolated and kept up my spirits. I hope everyone feels this way about their neighborhood!
2. I’m spoiled
I grew up in the country, and we didn’t have air conditioning until I was in high school. I chose to live in a dorm at Oklahoma State University that did not have air conditioning, and I don’t remember ever regretting it. I used to go on camping trips and sleep outside willingly! I’ve become soft in every sense of the word and now get panic-stricken at the thought of being without air conditioning for more than a few hours. I didn’t miss television, the internet, or even the lights, but I need air conditioning like Winnie the Pooh needs his honey!
3. People are good
Every disaster seems to bring out the good in people. I love hearing all the “feel good” stories from the last ten days. Many people with power offered places to charge devices, sit in the cool for a bit or have a meal. My ex-husband even showed up at our door with a generator and helped my husband get it going! I was pleasantly surprised by how many people offered to open their homes for overnight stays. We toughed it out at home for three nights and then took advantage of the hospitality of friends and family.
4. Resilience is easier if you have money
This experience made me think about what resilience is and why bouncing back after a disaster is easier for some. I don’t think anyone thinks a significant weather event and the aftermath is fun, but there’s a line between those for whom last week was an inconvenience and those for whom it was a major disaster. It was catastrophic to people already living paycheck to paycheck and barely getting by. A few missed work days could mean the difference between being housed and unhoused. Ruined food due to lack of a working refrigerator could mean the difference between being fed and going hungry.
If you’re complaining because you have to clean up some limbs, drive to the store and get more groceries, and call your insurance company to replace the roof, be thankful you can do those things. This weather event may have been a devastating blow for the less fortunate. Bouncing back to normal is easier for those with resources.
5. Who’s the boss?
No, I’m not talking about Tony Danza’s show from the ’80s. I’m referring to the days we went without any visible leadership from the governor. It seems Governor Stitt was out of the country, and Lieutenant Pinnell was out of the state during the storm. They neglected to let the next in line know he was supposed to be acting governor while they were gone, leaving us all wondering, who and where is the boss?
On Tuesday, when Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat discovered he was acting governor, he issued the state of emergency declaration. That allowed the state to access much-needed federal funds to begin the recovery. It’s just too bad we’re still in Tony Danza’s 1980s world and don’t have access to better forms of communication like cell phones and the internet that can link our governor to what’s happening in Oklahoma. Oh yeah, that’s right, we do!
6. Be prepared
As every good Boy Scout knows, we should always be prepared. I’m not sure we could have been ready for the aftermath of the June 17th storm, but I know there are a few things I hope to remember. Since finding gas became an issue, I won’t let my gas tank get so low again. I’ll keep fresh batteries for flashlights and keep my phone charged. I may go old school and get a battery-operated transistor radio, and we’ll also look at purchasing a generator.
Make sure you have someone who will check on you after a storm, and in return, make sure you check on others. Our phones didn’t work inside our house for days, making us wonder how long it would be before someone checked on us if we’d been stuck inside. When disaster strikes, help others as much as possible. It’s the right thing to do, and you might need the favor returned someday.
We’re ten days post the storm, most people have power, stoplights are working again, and the recovery process has begun. I imagine it will be weeks before the neighborhood streets are clear of all the storm debris and much longer before we forget Tulsa’s Stormageddon of 2023. I know it’s stored in my mental trauma bank right next to the ice storm of 2007. My grandson was correct when he said his grandparents were willing to sacrifice their lives for him, but we’re relieved we didn’t need to this time.