TIME Special Issue: Oklahoma Tornado

In the aftermath of Monday’s deadly tornado that ripped through Oklahoma, this week’s new issue of TIME, hitting newsstands and tablets Friday, May 24, is dedicated to covering the devastation.

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TIME Magazine Cover, June 3, 2013
Photograph by Alonzo Adams / AP

In the aftermath of Monday’s deadly tornado that ripped through Oklahoma, this week’s new issue of TIME, online today and hitting newsstands and tablets Friday, May 24, is dedicated to covering the devastation that followed the pivotal 16 minutes between when sirens first alerted Moore residents and when the tornado touched down.

Writing about Rick Smith, the warning coordinator for the National Weather Service in Norman, Oklahoma, TIME chronicles the tense moments before officials issued the alert that would give the public those precious 16 minutes that could  mean the difference between life and death.

Yet saying that the weather will be bad on a May afternoon in Tornado Alley is not enough to grab attention. Smith’s job was to say how bad, and where. He needed to say it as early as possible, so that people could get word and take cover. But he had to be right, because every time the storm sirens sound and no wolf appears, people grow a bit more complacent. And when the sirens prove to be warranted, complacent people are likely to become injured people, maimed people, dead people. As the hours ticked away, Smith and the command center team sifted the data. “There’s no shouting, no panic. It’s like being aboard an aircraft carrier, though we didn’t have the colored shirts,” Smith says. Local news stations beamed images of ominous clouds from their weather helicopters. Professional and amateur storm chasers radioed reports of deteriorating conditions. The Weather Service forecasters narrowed the danger zone to a bull’s-eye stretching across the metropolis of Oklahoma City and south to the university town of Norman, where Smith and his colleagues could watch the sky grow darker through a wall of west-facing windows. Shortly after 2:30 p.m. CDT, the team had seen enough. Something big was gathering near the Oklahoma City suburbs south of Interstate 40 and east of I-44. Using pre-formatted text to save precious seconds, they approved the strongest warning the Weather Service can give: a “tornado emergency” was declared. The designation was created by the man who is now Smith’s boss, meteorologist David Andra, during the May 3, 1999 storm that spun up winds in excess of 300 m.p.h. in the town of Moore, OK—the highest winds ever recorded. Andra’s designation means simply, “this is not your usual Oklahoma tornado,” says Smith. “This is different; this is deadly.” Moore is located just south of Interstate 40 and east of I-44.

With the press of a “return” key, the warning was issued at 2:40 p.m. The people of Moore had 16 minutes.

Click here to read the full cover story on the Moore tornado, available exclusively for TIME subscribers. 

Not a subscriber? Subscribe now or purchase a digital access pass.

MORE: Prelude to Disaster: Inside the Oklahoma Weather Center

PHOTOS: Moments of Hope in Oklahoma: One Photographer’s Story

5 comments
carolsadlergill
carolsadlergill

lacrosseriverrat

I AM SURE YOU HAVE YOURE OWN IDEA OF WHAT THE PEOPLE OF MOORE WENT THROUGH. BUT I CAN ASSURE YOU UNLESS YOU HAVE BEEN THROUGH A TORNADO OF THAT SIZE YOU DONT KNOW WHAT THE PEOPLE OF MOORE OKLAHOMA ARE GOING THROUGH. THANK GOD MY MOM LISTENED TO GARY ON NEWS 9 AND TOOK COVER. I FEEL SO SORRY FOR EVERY ONE WHO LOST THEIR LOVED ONES. IT TOOK MY MOMS HOUSE AND EVERY THING SHE HAD, BUT WE STILL HAVE MY MOM. SO I SAY WE SHOULD ALL PRAY FOR LOVE AND HELP FOR THE PEOPLE IN MOORE OKLAHOMA!!! THAT MAKES US HUMAN AND OKLAHOMA PEOPLE ARE THE BEST!!!!

bepratt44
bepratt44

Irregardless of the fellows argument. God Bless the people who lost everything they have. Yes in Oklahoma we are a strong and spirited group of people, however it is still a disaster to loose everything you have! I know whereof I speak!

lacrosseriverrat
lacrosseriverrat

No one should have been caught by surprise from this tornado. The National Weather Service & Storm Prediction Center had been talking about this severe weather outbreak for 6 days prior to the event. There was even an EF4 tornado the day before. The NWS briefing issue on YouTube at 1130 AM that morning specifically mentioned that there was a concern for schools and the afternoon rush hours, storms would rapidly develop, and there would be the potential for an EF4 tornado. The Storm Prediction Center issued a Tornado Watch at 1:10 pm. This was 2 hours and ten minutes before the tornado struck Moore. The severe thunderstorm warning went out at 212 PM. The Norman NWS posted at 230 PM on their Facebook account "People in south OKC, Moore, and Norman need to pay VERY close attention to the storm near Newcastle!!" The NWS had the Tornado Warning out 16 minutes before the tornado ever touched the ground. That means there was at least 34 minutes of warning for Moore. The national average is 12 minutes. No one should have been caught by surprise from this tornado.


sweetlacuna
sweetlacuna

@lacrosseriverrat Perhaps you work in a place that will let you monitor the weather; most people working don't get that luxury.  Besides, on the radar of the channel I was looking at, there was a green rain spot, nothing else. Then, in 10 minutes the sirens were going off. I live in Moore.