TULSA, Oklahoma –
Many believe parts of the city of Tulsa are immune from a direct tornado hit, but are we actually overdue for the big one?
Large swaths of Tulsa have avoided tornadoes since the Creek Indians settled near present-day 18th 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,” said Rob Trepp, Muscogee Creek Historian.
That’s not the only theory.
The bend in the Arkansas River, according to Tulsa weather folklore, is supposed to protect the downtown area. And so far, tornadoes have been north and tornadoes have been 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, 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 a thousand homes.
The intersection of 71st and Memorial in Tulsa is one of the busiest intersections in the entire city. Back in June, 1974, this didn’t exist. There was just a roadway, a stop sign. No Woodland Hills Mall. Changes to that didn’t come for two years. But, if the same tornado that hit here in 1974 hit here today, it is estimated at least 11,000 people would be directly affected by that tornado.
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% and now covers 280 square miles of relatively dense population.
The developed part of metro Tulsa has a 3% chance of being hit by an EF-3 to EF-5 tornado every year, and with growth continuing that percentage will keep rising.