I grew up in Graham, and I’ve always heard that a tornado would never touch down in Graham due to the location being in a “valley.” I asked local Young County historian Dorman Holub, and he said that according to newspaper accounts and meteorological reports, no tornados have occurred in Graham. He also said that the physical location of Graham was a priority of Colonel E.S. Graham. This was documented by Col. Graham’s diary.
Most Grahamites remember the storms of 1976 and 1998. According to newspaper accounts, these were considered to be wind shears. A wind shear is a radical shift in wind speed and direction that occurs over a very short distance.
Storms don’t scare me, and normally when bad weather approaches, I’m at the radio station with my husband, Rick Edwards. Bryan Insurance Agency’s office is a block away from the radio station, so if we do have a bad storm, I can go over to the office to see if we are getting phone calls from clients. However, the storms of 1976 and 1998 will forever be in my memory.
I was 8 years old in 1976 and was at school when the storm hit. None of the students were aware of the severity of the storm. My dad, Bob Ratcliff, was getting ready to leave town to head to a lease, but he went to my school and my brother Jeff’s school to make sure we were safe before he left. When we got home, we discovered than an extremely large tree had blown over and knocked down electric and telephone lines. My mom, Ann Ratliff, got a saw and went to work on that tree. Jeff and I helped her clear off the debris. We had no telephone or electricity, but Mom made it into an adventure. We lit candles and played games. Our electricity and telephone service was finally restored after about five days.
The evening before the 1998 storm, Rick was getting ready to leave the house to go to the radio station to work a football game. Right before he left, the electricity went out. He decided to wait to make sure it came back on before he left. It came on within a few minutes, but the telephone rang and the call was for Rick. A storm had blown through, and it completely destroyed the radio tower. I rarely see my husband baffled, but he was so shocked he asked if they were still doing the game that night. The person on the telephone said, “Rick, we don’t have a tower!”
Later we went into town and saw that the storm had destroyed a mobile home park right up the highway from our house. We knew that, had he not delayed his trip into town, he would have been driving right in the middle of that storm.
My mom, Bryan Insurance Agency employee Ann Ratcliff, grew up in Konawa, Oklahoma. Konawa is a small town in central Oklahoma. When she was a child, she heard an Indian legend that Konawa would never have a tornado because it was at the fork of three rivers. Many times she and her family would stand outside the storm cellar watching funnels come down out of a cloud, but a tornado never touched down in Konawa.
On Feb. 17, 1961, Mom and Dad were living out on an oil lease close to Westover. A news flash appeared on the television that a tornado had touched down in Konawa and destroyed 90 percent of the town. Mom’s parents and grandmother still lived in Konawa. There was no telephone out where Mom and Dad lived, so they drove into Megargel and used a pay phone to try to call Mom’s parents. The phone rang, but there was no answer. Mom had no way to get in touch with them.
The next morning when their Fort Worth Star Telegram was delivered, there was a picture of Mom’s grandmother leaning on her bathtub. It was the only thing left of her house. Mom and Dad immediately drove to Konawa to find out if everyone was okay, and they found out her parents and grandmother were temporarily living in a house in Ada, Oklahoma, because their homes were destroyed. They were in a storm cellar during the storm. According to the Konawa Leader, no lives were lost and there were only a few injuries. The safety of Konawa residents was thanks, in part, to local radio weatherman Rosser McDonald. They didn’t have sophisticated radars in those days, but 20 minutes before the storm hit Konawa, McDonald was at the back of the radio station watching the tornado develop. He gave live broadcasts of the building storm and begged residents to take cover. His warnings, no doubt, saved many lives.
The tornado started at the Baptist church where Mom and her family had been members and where she and her twin sister played the piano and organ there all four years of high school. It moved downtown and destroyed all the businesses. Most homes were either destroyed or severely damaged. All telephone lines were destroyed. Much of the city was without gas services, and the power was out. The city water was provided by electric pumps, so there was no water. Owners of businesses and residents of the town rallied, and eventually the businesses and homes were rebuilt. My grandparents and great grandmother lived there until their deaths. Konawa is a unique town. Of course we went there a lot when my grandparents were alive. In more recent years, Mom and I have gone to their school reunion several times, and I always love visiting there. While Konawa and Graham are completely different, they are both wonderful towns with great residents.
Mom will never forget the shock of seeing her grandmother’s picture in the Fort Worth Star Telegram. When we were talking about it, we discussed that February was early for a tornado, and that storm season is upon us. We wanted to pass on some storm safety tips. We don’t want anyone to believe “no tornado will hit Graham” and not take proper steps to protect themselves and their family in the event of bad weather.
In Texas, severe weather can spawn tornados, produce damaging winds, hail storms and flash floods. Weather officials say thunderstorms should never be taken for granted, so monitor local weather reports. And when severe weather strikes, especially during tornados and dangerous winds known as “straight-line winds,” seek shelter in an interior room on the lowest floor.
For more tips, log on to the Texas Division of Emergency Management website at http://www.txdps.state.tx.us/dem/.