Dust Bowl tops state's weather

Monday, December 13th 1999, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

Editor's note: The picture on this page is an actual "dust bowl" picture taken at Guymon, Oklahoma in the 1930's.

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) -- Oklahomans have seen all manners of weather, but nothing in the 20th century had a more far-reaching impact on the state than did the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. The Dust Bowl was selected today by the National Weather Service as the top weather event of the century in Oklahoma. The Weather Service offices in Norman and Tulsa worked on the list with the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

The Dust Bowl with its extreme heat and drought literally changed the face of the Great Plains. Clouds of dust filled the air. Thousands of Oklahomans left the state for a chance at a better life in California. The soil erosion forced changes in farm policy. On April 14, 1935, "Black Sunday" hit with the dust obliterating the sun.

May's outbreak of tornadoes that killed 44 people and destroyed thousands of home ranked second on the state list. Seventy-five tornadoes were recorded in a 21-hour period, more than doubling the previous record. Several tornadoes were rated F4 and one of the tornadoes was the first F-5 in the state in nearly 20 years, the weather service said. Damage from the tornadoes exceeded $1 billion.

A blizzard that dumped nearly 3 feet of snow at Buffalo on Feb.21-22, 1971, was ranked third. The storm was confined to a relatively small part of northwest Oklahoma, but it nearly doubled the maximum storm total of any other snowstorm in state history. Winds created enormous snow drifts, forcing some people to use second-story windows to get out of their homes.

The most deadly tornado in Oklahoma history killed 116 people in Woodward alone on April 9, 1947, and ranked fourth on the list of weather events this century. Tornadoes also ranked fifth with the March 1948 tornadoes at Tinker Air Force Based that led to the start of tornado forecast. The first tornado struck on March 20, 1948, and caused more than $10 million in damage. The second tornado struck five days later following the first successful tornado forecast in history.

Sixth on the list was the arctic cold wave of December 1983 with wind chills routinely between zero and minus 40 degrees. The temperature at Oklahoma City remained below freezing for nearly two weeks. The heat wave of 1980 was seventh. A January 1988 snowstorm ranked eighth. A flash flood in Tulsa in May 1984 that killed 14 people ranked ninth and a January 1987 ice storm was 10th.