Are You Kidding Me? I Live In One of the Most Dangerous Places on Earth?
I haven’t read Popular Mechanics since I was a kid (don’t ask me why I read it then), but a headline from one of the magazine’s online articles hit me like one of those grapefruit size chunks of hail that fell from the dark Oklahoma sky last week. It listed “8 of the Most Dangerous Places (To Live) on the Planet”. And guess what? One of those eight happens to be where I live!
Apparently I (or at least where I call home) have something in common with those who live in the deep freeze of Siberia, or in the shadow of “Fire Mountain” on the island of Java, or hurricane-ravaged Haiti, or along the so-called African Lake of Death in the Democratic of Congo/Rwanda, or in a part of China they call the Creeping Sandbox where drought and desert, wind and dust have swallowed up more than 100 square miles since 1950.
It’s hard to believe, but one of the most dangerous places to live on earth is a lot closer than Russia, China, Africa or Haiti. It’s a path I travel dozens of times every year. It’s where my boys go to college. It’s where I live. Popular Mechanics has included the I-44 Tornado Corridor between Tulsa and Oklahoma City in its Top 8 Most Dangerous list. Here’s what it says about it:
More than 1 million people reside along the Interstate 44 corridor that runs between Oklahoma City and Tulsa, the Sooner State’s two most populous metropolitan areas. Each spring, as the cool, dry air from the Rocky Mountains glides across the lower plains, and the warm, wet air of the Gulf Coast comes north to meet it, the residents of this precarious stretch, locally called Tornado Alley, settle in for twister season.
Since 1890, more than 120 tornadoes have struck Oklahoma City and the surrounding area, which currently has a population of approximately 700,000. On May 3, 1999, an outbreak of 70 tornadoes stretched across Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas. Several of the most destructive storms swept through Oklahoma City, destroying 1700 homes and damaging another 6500. Even with modern prediction capabilities and early warning systems, 40 people died when an F-5 twister tore through Oklahoma City. In addition to the loss of life, this display of natural devastation caused more than $1 billion in damage. Since 1950, the longest the area has gone without a tornado is five years—from 1992 to 1998. (As if making up for lost time, in the 11 months that followed that record lull, 11 tornadoes hit.) For only three other periods during the last half-century has Oklahoma City gone more than two years without a tornado.
Northeast of Oklahoma City, along the same track that most tornado-producing storms travel, sits Tulsa, which has experienced its own share of devastation at the hands of Tornado Alley’s storms. Between 1950 and 2006, 69 tornadoes spun across Tulsa County—population 590,000—though none proved as deadly as the 1999 storm that hit Oklahoma City. But because of its geography—the city lies along the banks of the Arkansas River and is built atop an extensive series of creeks and their flood plains—Tulsa is particularly vulnerable to the rain that accompanies Oklahoma’s severe weather. Major floods in 1974, 1976 and 1984 caused hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of damage.
I admit the past couple of weeks have been devastating and exhausting for Oklahomans. I’ve witnessed widespread destruction I’ve only seen one other time in my life (Joplin 2011). It’s been bad. No, it’s been horrible. But to be considered one of the most dangerous places to live anywhere on earth? That surprises me. I don’t know. That may be taking it a bit too far.
But then again, have I just grown accustomed to living in Tornado Alley (last week an EF-2 tornado came within a few blocks of my neighborhood)? Maybe if I lived down the turnpike in Moore , and saw my house destroyed three times in the past 14 years by twisters, I wouldn’t be surprised one bit that I live in one of the most dangerous places on the planet!