Tornado season is upon us, and already we’ve had two bouts with them, resulting in deaths, injuries and destruction.
Weather experts tell us to take cover in our “storm caves” when a dark cloud appears on the horizon.
Storm cave is a term for tornado shelters that has been used every decade from 1901 to 2008 in The Oklahoman.
Not being familiar with storm caves, I have heard the tornado shelter called a cellar, a storm cellar, a storm shelter, a fallout shelter and, of course, my favorite, the “‘fraidy hole.”
Storm caves were most often mentioned in The Oklahoman’s classifieds as a selling point for houses and land, but this editorial published June 3, 1947, gives some history.
“Some years ago when the pioneers were moving out into the prairie country in quest of permanent homes many of them (a great many of them) were careful to dig storm caves even before they began to build their houses.
“One reason was there was abundant space for cave digging and the only cost entailed was the labor of the digger, while the material required for house building was back on the nearest railway, some times several days’ journey away. Many of the pioneers lived in their primitive dugouts for several years.
“But there was another reason for that pioneer day digging-in operation. The first settlers were well aware of the possibility of an unexpected visit from a spiraling storm cloud.
“So they prepared what the cowboys in their vernacular called their ‘fraid holes,’ both as a place of temporary residence and as a safe harbor if a tornado should appear on the scene. And unquestionably many a pioneer survived to a ripe old age who might have been blown into the next county if it had not been for some convenient hole in the ground.
“Civilization conquered the prairie country some years ago. Handsome homes have taken the place of the old sod house and storm cave.
“Cities and towns now mark the plains country with their elevators and churches and schools and business blocks.
“Long familiarity with the possibility of the tornado’s visit has rendered a lot of people indifferent to the danger.
“But in spite of progress and in spite of change of outlook a good, safe storm cave is not even yet a useless possession. It is a means of safety to many times 10,000 people.
“Considering the reasonableness of their cost and their priceless value in the day of crisis it is almost strange that every home on the plains and every school house is not equipped with a good storm cave.
” It may be needed no more than once in a lifetime, but when it is needed, it is needed terribly.”
So, when the Oklahoma winds blow strong and the warnings become incessant, listen to the experts and go to your safe place, be it a tornado shelter or storm cave or, in my case, the bathtub or an interior hallway, away from all windows.
Pick up a newspaper, check online or listen to the television, and it seems all you hear is about the heat and whether or not Oklahoma City will break the 1936 high temperature record of 113.1 degrees.
This observation appeared 75 years ago Sunday, Aug. 16, 1936, on Page 1 of The Oklahoman. It recaps the week of heat that included the record-setting 113.1 degree high temperature.
Fear is the papa and mama of invention. We have been very scared the last two weeks because the human body is 90 percent water and we have been evaporating at a rapid rate.
Harry Wahlgren, with the two hottest weeks on record, until a few days ago had us believing he was drying us like peaches on a smoke house roof. He had us wondering how long it would be until we dried up completely and blew into Arkansas, just so many irritants to hay fever victims.
It’s got to be admitted that Harry’s first few blows brought out our creative impulses. The humblest became scientific. We reasoned that if we were drying up at twice our weight a day we would have to drink three times our weight in water to hold our own.
That was elemental, but as soon as we were waterlogged it became clear that other modern means would have to adopted to cut down the evaporation. We quit all work to apply ourselves to this problem.
Primitive souls hauled in tubs of ice and sat opposite electric fans. Stone age men hung wet towels in the windows. Reactionaries tried gin highballs. The best minds among us evaporated a lot of rigging up air coolers. They sought boxes of wet excelsior, ran water through them and fanned the air on their heaving bosoms.
Some made gadgets out of fishing reels, bicycle pumps, flannel underwear and electric fans. Some lay under water sprinklers. Others floundered in tepid swimming pools.
It looked like it would all be in vain. We were losing ground. Wahlgren was pouring it on.
The worse day was the day we broke the record. Panting from inventing we learned that on August 10 we had been hotter than ever an Oklahoma Cityan had been before. That made us kinda proud. It set us out as hardy people.
Sleeping through that night under the cool off a mere 81 degrees that was long in coming we found we could take it for certain.
The next day we weren’t even impressed when Harry raised the ante to 113 degrees. Then when the temperature began to fall a two and three degrees at a clip we gave Wahlgren the horse laugh. We drove out Classen in the heat of the day to mock him.
We even went back to work. We forgot about our gadgets to keep cool. We forgot even to remember we were hot. We have proved that hearty Oklahomans can sweat and live. Not only sweat and live, but sweat and get the job done, sweat and even have fun. We have proved we’re tougher even than rag weeds.
Hang in there! In 1936 the rains and cooler temperatures finally came in September.
Note: Harry Walgren was the head of the U.S. Weather Bureau branch on Classen Boulevard in what are now law offices