Skip to main content

We love and fear the Oklahoma skies

By Nathan Gunter, Special to CNN
updated 9:34 AM EDT, Wed May 22, 2013
A message is left by a homeowner who lost his home in the May 20 tornado on Monday, May 27, in Moore, Oklahoma. <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/20/us/gallery/midwest-weather/index.html'>View more photos of the aftermath in the region</a> and another gallery of <a href='http://www.cnn.com/2013/05/21/us/gallery/oklahoma-tornado-aerials/index.html'>aerial shots of the damage</a>. A message is left by a homeowner who lost his home in the May 20 tornado on Monday, May 27, in Moore, Oklahoma. View more photos of the aftermath in the region and another gallery of aerial shots of the damage.
HIDE CAPTION
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
34
35
36
37
38
39
40
41
42
43
44
45
46
47
48
49
50
51
52
53
54
55
56
57
58
59
60
61
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
71
72
73
74
75
76
77
78
79
80
81
82
83
84
85
86
87
88
89
90
91
92
93
94
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Nathan Gunter: Okies love the big, full skies, but watch them closely for signs of trouble
  • Gunter: Green clouds are bad; swirl at edge of a storm pattern means take cover
  • We've had our share of disaster, he says: Murrah bombing, previous tornadoes
  • Gunter: We make sense of it by helping out, finding meaning in acts of selflessness

Editor's note: Nathan Gunter is the managing editor of Oklahoma Today magazine, the state's official magazine. A graduate of Westmoore High School in Moore, Oklahoma, he holds degrees from Wake Forest University and the University of Oklahoma.

(CNN) -- Oklahomans have a special relationship with the sky. We know how to look up. On the prairies of western Oklahoma, the skies are so big, and so full, it is easy to feel you may begin to fall upward, or even fly. To live underneath this unbroken expanse of heaven can be at once inspiring and terrifying.

Every Okie has seen those skies turn scary, and every Okie accepts that atmospheric instability is a part of our legacy. In school and from our trusted local meteorologists, we learn from an early age what to look for in a sky, in a radar map and in a safe place.

Green-tinted clouds are never a good sign; a hook echo on a radar -- the telltale swirl at the edge of a storm pattern indicating strong rotation -- means take cover. Underground is best, in a basement or storm shelter. But a small, ground-floor room with no exterior walls will do if the tornado isn't too strong. Cover up with a mattress or thick blanket to avoid debris; don't open all the windows in the house, contrary to now discredited advice; don't hide under an overpass.

Opinion: How can we be sage from tornadoes?

Nathan Gunter
Nathan Gunter
A message is left by a homeowner who lost his home in the May 20 tornado on Monday, May 27, in Moore, Oklahoma. View more photos of the aftermath in the region and another gallery of aerial shots of the damage. A message is left by a homeowner who lost his home in the May 20 tornado on Monday, May 27, in Moore, Oklahoma. View more photos of the aftermath in the region and another gallery of aerial shots of the damage.
Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma City area
HIDE CAPTION
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
>
>>
Photos: Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma Photos: Deadly tornado hits Oklahoma
Storm chaser pulls 15 people from rubble
Tornado shelter saves lives in Oklahoma

If this liturgy of weather preparedness is part of the Oklahoma psyche, so, unfortunately, is devastation. Fourteen years ago this month, one of the worst tornadoes in history roared through Moore, Oklahoma, taking dozens of lives and hundreds of homes.

Long after the initial cleanup was completed, the disaster was everywhere apparent.

The branches of trees were gnarled by the winds into unreal shapes, their leaves growing close to the bark as if for protection. Neighborhoods that once were thick with homes seemed almost to revert to the fields from which they'd sprung. For those who lost homes, it took months, sometimes years, to become whole. For those who lost loved ones, that never happened.

That is why for the people of Moore, what happened on May 20 feels impossible. It is impossible that this happened here again. It is impossible to reduce the suffering to a number: lives lost, homes destroyed, damage expressed in dollars. For many, it must feel impossible to know where to begin to carry on.

Inside a tornado-ravaged school

How does a community make sense of destruction on the level carried out by Monday's storm?

In Moore, it began almost as soon as the tornado touched down. Teachers at Plaza Towers and Briarwood elementary schools threw their bodies over their students to protect them from debris. Survivors flooded the streets helping to dig their neighbors out from under collapsed homes. Trucks filled with supplies raced to the scene.

We help. That is how we begin. It's what we know how to do. Word just came from Red Cross Oklahoma that Oklahoma City Thunder star forward Kevin Durant has donated $1 million to disaster relief efforts; Devon Energy, headquartered in Oklahoma City, donated $2.5 million. Thousands more from all over the country have donated what they can.

For Okies, this is what home is about.

Opinion: The making of a nightmare tornado

The "Oklahoma Standard," exhibited to the world after the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, after the May 3, 1999, tornado, and today, is who we are. What is on display before the world's eyes is not only a community's response to a disaster but an exhibition of something essential to the Oklahoma character.

We make sense of disaster by showing up and doing what we can. We find meaning in a bottle of water, a rescued pet, a family reunited, an act of selflessness. These things -- and not disasters -- are what define home for us.

Home, to borrow a phrase from the Bible, is where we live and move and have our being. It is not only where but who we are.

Moore in bull's-eye twice, now we may know why

Our identity is in softly rolling prairies giving way to forested hills, in long stretches of horizon that make you feel like you could see almost to eternity, and in big skies stretched tight above it all. We have learned to watch those skies -- for blessings, for rain, for sunshine, for wind and for signs of danger.

And we have learned to help. It's in our bones, like red dirt and big skies. It's what we will do now.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nathan Gunter.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:42 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
The former U.K. prime minister and current U.N. envoy says there are 500 days left to fulfill the Millennium Goals' promise to children.
updated 9:10 AM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Julian Zelizer says the left mistrusts Clinton but there are ways she can win support from liberals in 2016
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
Peter Bergen says the terror group is a huge threat in Iraq but only a potential one in the U.S.
updated 1:34 PM EDT, Sat August 16, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the way cops, media, politicians and protesters have behaved since Michael Brown's shooting shows not all the right people have learned the right lessons
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Sun August 17, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says the American military advisers in Iraq are sizing up what needs to be done and recommending accordingly
updated 3:41 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Marc Lamont Hill says the President's comments on the Michael Brown shooting ignored its racial implications
updated 5:46 PM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Joe Stork says the catastrophe in northern Iraq continues, even though many religious minorities have fled to safety: ISIS forces -- intent on purging them -- still control the area where they lived
updated 6:26 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Tim Lynch says Pentagon's policy of doling out military weapons to police forces is misguided and dangerous.
updated 9:15 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
S.E. Cupp says millennials want big ideas and rapid change; she talks to one of their number who serves in Congress
updated 7:57 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Dorothy Brown says the power structure is dominated by whites in a town that is 68% black. Elected officials who sat by silently as chaos erupted after Michael Brown shooting should be voted out of office
updated 7:49 AM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Bill Schmitz says the media and other adults should never explain suicide as a means of escaping pain. Robin Williams' tragic death offers a chance to educate about prevention
updated 11:05 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Nafees Syed says President Obama should renew the quest to eliminate bias in the criminal justice system
updated 4:24 PM EDT, Thu August 14, 2014
Eric Liu says what's unfolded in the Missouri town is a shocking violation of American constitutional rights and should be a wake-up call to all
updated 3:22 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Neal Gabler says Lauren Bacall, a talent in her own right, will be defined by her marriage with the great actor Humphrey Bogart
updated 6:56 AM EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Bob Butler says the arrest of two journalists covering the Ferguson story is alarming
updated 4:35 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Mark O'Mara says we all need to work together to make sure the tension between police and African-Americans doesn't result in more tragedies
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Mon August 18, 2014
Pepper Schwartz asks why young women are so entranced with Kardashian, who's putting together a 352-page book of selfies
updated 7:08 PM EDT, Wed August 13, 2014
Michael Friedman says depression does not discriminate, cannot be bargained with and shows no mercy.
updated 8:51 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Mary Allen says because of new research and her own therapy, she no longer carries around the fear of her mother, which had turned into a generalized fear of everything
updated 3:59 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gilbert Gottfried says the comedian was most at home on the comedy club stage, where he was generous to his fellow stand-up performers
updated 4:54 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Iris Baez, whose son was killed by an illegal police chokehold, says there must be zero tolerance for police who fatally shoot or otherwise kill unarmed people such as Michael Brown
updated 8:46 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Maria Cardona says as he seeks a path to the presidency, the Kentucky Senator is running from his past stated positions. But voters are not stupid--and they know how to use the internet
updated 10:19 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Gene Seymour says the shock at the actor and comedian's death comes from its utter implausibility. For many of us over the last 40 years or so, Robin Williams was an irresistible force of nature that nothing could stop.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
Soledad O'Brien says the story of two veterans told in a documentary airing on CNN shows the challenges resulting from post-traumatic stress
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Tue August 12, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must not surrender to apathy about the injustice faced by African Americans
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT