This week I hope to give you a look through my eyes at the events leading up to and including the deadly early Sunday morning tornado that hit Woodward, OK on April 15, 2012. My thoughts and prayers are with the victims' families and the injured. Our ultimate goal in the News 9 weather department is to provide accurate and timely severe weather information in an effort to help prevent loss of property and life. Despite losing 6 Oklahomans and having nearly 30 injured, there is no question that the human toll would have been much higher had it not been for the coverage we provided.
My primary roles during News 9 severe weather coverage are twofold. First, I direct our News 9 Stormtrackers, SkyNews9HD, and our news crews. Second, I provide on air warnings when Gary determines that is necessary. I think it is important for everyone to understand the importance of each of the hundreds of decisions that are made during each severe weather event. Those decisions often begin days in advance including: what kind of message do we deliver to you based on our forecast, what crews are going to be available, what special events may be taking place with thousands of people gathered together, and many more. Those are just a few of the decisions that take place before the weather even turns ugly. The importance of those decisions escalates as the event begins, and any one of them can either make or break our coverage depending on the situation and possibly save lives. I will now give you what I call The Decision of this past weekend from my perspective.
Every single decision I make with respect to a News 9 asset determines whether a storm has eyes on it or not. Radar is a wonderful and extremely powerful tool, but there simply is no way to replace an experienced Stormtracker, live video from SkyNews9HD, a news crew, or a city camera providing a first hand account of the storm. After numerous tornadoes Saturday evening in northwest Oklahoma, I decided to have a few of our Stormtrackers meet our satellite truck near Waynoka to feed their video to us while some of the other teams made their way back to central Oklahoma for the storms expected later that night. Gary also decided to interview News 9 Stormtracker Hank Brown during the 10 PM show about his encounter with the tornadoes. Little did I know that it was at that very moment that I would make a life or death decision.
News 9 Stormtracker Marty Logan, who lives 10 miles NW of Woodward in Ft. Supply, had been tracking storms all afternoon since they were literally in his Ft. Supply back yard. Marty also happens to be a former Woodward firefighter who has extensive knowledge of the city, emergency operations, and experience tracking storms. I think it's safe to say that what was about to take place was not an accident. Storms began developing in the Texas panhandle between 10 and 11pm. I was torn about where to place the crews. Initially, I had pondered sending Marty to Enid because of how the storms were developing into a line almost immediately. But, something inside me told me no, Woodward was his destination. So, I instructed Marty to head to Woodward, grab a bite to eat, and wait for the next round. That is what I now refer to as The Decision.
A violently rotating supercell thunderstorm formed soon thereafter between 11 pm and midnight, the only storm that would become a tornadic supercell during the overnight hours in Oklahoma fortunately. However, the city of Woodward and its 12-thousand Oklahomans who were hoping they were finished with the severe threat lay precariously in the supercell's path. I informed Marty to prepare for a possible tornado approaching Woodward several minutes before the first tornado warning was issued at midnight. During the next 23 minutes, Jed, Gary, Marty, and I warned the people of Woodward. Other members of the News 9 weather department were busy gathering information about the storm simultaneously. Marty's coverage brought a normally busy and noisy News 9 weather center to a mysterious halt. I remember losing it for a moment with a few tears streaming as I listened to Marty give aid to a man and his mother who had been hit by the tornado while driving a suburban. Marty later described that SUV to me as something that looked more like a cigar than a vehicle because of how many times it had rolled. Marty, you are a hero sir. I would like to express my gratitude to Marty for his courage, and to the rest of the entire News 9 weather team for being the best crew in the world to work with.