Travis Meyer On Whether Tulsa Is 'Protected' From Tornadoes


Thursday, May 12th 2016, 11:35 pm
By: News On 6


It's been decades since the city of Tulsa has taken a direct hit from a major twister.

Many believe parts of the city are immune from that kind of disaster, but are we actually overdue for the big one?

So far this spring, four tornadoes have touched down in the Tulsa metro area - two of them inside Tulsa city limits.

It may come as a surprise here in Tornado Alley, but large swaths of Tulsa have avoided tornadoes since the Creek Indians settled near present-day 18th and Boulder in the 1800s.

"They put out tornado medicine is our understanding, scattered all around this area to protect the town council and the religious center here from the tornadoes," said Muscogee Creek Historian Rob Trepp.

That's not the only theory.

According to Tulsa weather folklore, the bend in the Arkansas River is supposed to protect the downtown area. So far, tornadoes have been north and south, but they have not been downtown, yet.

The truth? Tornadoes can and do cross rivers without losing strength, just as they go over hills and through valleys.

Since 1950, 82 tornadoes have hit Tulsa County. The largest was an F4 which ripped through Catoosa in 1993.

Nineteen years earlier, in 1974, two F3 twisters created trails of damage around Brookside and parts of south and east Tulsa, damaging more than 1,000 homes.

The intersection at 71st Street and Memorial is one of the busiest in the entire city. But in June of 1974, there was just a roadway and a stop sign – no Woodland Hills Mall.

Changes to that area didn’t come for two years. If the same tornado that hit there in 1974 hit there today, it’s estimated at least 11,000 people would be directly affected by it.

From a now fully developed area around ORU to the bustling retail district on 71st Street and densely populated neighborhoods all around, that tornado's track would create much more damage today.

Tulsa is a huge target compared to 40 years ago. The developed area of the metro region has increased by 128 percent, and now covers 280 square miles of relatively dense population.

"Look at any of the metropolitan areas in the Tornado Belt area. They're all expanding in size. The population density is increasing. So yes, that certainly makes us more vulnerable," Meteorologist Dick Faurot said.

The developed part of metro Tulsa has a three percent chance of being hit by an EF-3 to EF-5 tornado every year, and with growth continuing, that percentage will keep rising.

While science can't specifically explain why major tornadoes keep hitting a city like Moore, it seems reasonable to believe that Tulsa, relatively unscathed in comparison, is due for another devastating tornado.

As for tornado medicine, many believe its effects are still warding off disaster today.

"As long as it's not disturbed, as long as it's left where it was, it will continue to help Tulsa," Trepp said.

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Bartlesville Path Map:

McAlester Path Map:

Muskogee Path Map: