When Seconds Count: The Technology That Saved Lives In Oologah’s Powerful 1991 Tornado

Wednesday, April 21st 2021, 10:25 pm
By: Travis Meyer

TULSA, Oklahoma -

When Oklahoma’s weather turns severe, an early warning can mean the difference between life and death.

In just a few days, people in Oologah will mark the 30th anniversary of an F4 tornado that caused millions of dollars in damage. That weather event isn’t remembered for the lives lost, but for the lives saved.

Keeping you safe has been part of News On 6’s mission for more than 70 years. And that was never clearer than on April 26, 1991 when a powerful tornado cut through Oologah.

News On 6 had just launched new technology that gave everyone in the storm’s path a 43-minute warning.

This important tool made its debut on News On 6 just in time – just one day before the Oologah tornado outbreak and would be put to the test in a big way.

David Oldham created Pathfinder.

"We used to track storms in the weather office with a grease pencil and a highway map," Oldham said. "My thought was, 'well, why can't we try it with something where we can point to the radar then extrapolate the position of the storm in the future and see which cities would be affected from there.'"

The storm produced an F-4 tornado and destroyed more than 60 homes. It caused $12 million in damage to the Oologah-Talala school buildings. Although the damage was extensive, no lives were lost.

It is, in part, because of Pathfinder and Oldham.

“Pathfinder was working like a charm that night. It was just incredible, the amount of warning we were able to give people,” Oldham reflected. “After the fact, going out into the field and hearing people say, ‘Jim Giles and Pathfinder saved my life’ [was] an incredible experience.”

Related Story: Ahead Of The Storm: 30th Anniversary Of The Oologah Tornado Pathfinder

Almost three decades after the storms of April 26, 1991, Oklahomans still count on technology such as Pathfinder to stay ahead of the storm.

“It’s something Oklahomans deal with every spring, but they can have a little more certainty,” Oldham stated. "It still gives me some pride that I was able to come up with the idea, develop it and get it implemented.”