The devastating tornado touched down southwest of Memorial Stadium, and by the time it reached that point, it began to cause F4 damage including some of the worst damage at McNiel Junior High.
A few weeks ago Meteorologist Michael Bohling was able to sit down with Charlie Byars who was a Storm Spotter that day and lived to tell the tale. Byars talked about that terrible day and how we are now better prepared for the next.
“It was massive. It was so big, and I had never seen anything like that,” Byars said. “I had seen tornadoes, but not anything as big as that was, and of course, it was very devastating.”
After the storm passed, the deadly tornado caused nearly $500 million worth of damage and left Wichita Falls unrecognizable.
“There were no landmarks,” Byars said. “You couldn’t find your way because nothing in the area that you were familiar with. It was all piles of lumber, destroyed homes, building. And it was difficult to try and navigate through the city”
Forty-five lives were lost as a result of the tornado and 20,000 people were left homeless.
In the aftermath of the storm, residents across the city stepped up to help those in need.
“Other people in the community helped, and took a lot of people in to live with them while they rebuilt their homes,” Byars said. “That was wonderful for people in the community to do that, and that’s typical Wichita Falls. We’re a friendly city and there to support each other when the need rises.”
Although people can’t prevent another tornado from doing the same type of damage, Byars said he believes storm spotters and meteorologists are now better equipped to protect the lives of those in the community.
“If we had another tornado tomorrow, we would not do the same type of service, or provide the same type of service that we did in ’79 due to technology,” Byars said.
In addition to constant communication with storm spotters in the field, other’s in the spotter network have the ability to track each spotter’s location on the radar.
With the advancements in research and technology, Byars said he thinks spotters are more capable than ever to protect the lives of those threatened by a storm.
“I think the technology has improved to the point that you know if people pay attention to what they’re being told, then they’re going to be safe,” Byars said. “Where if they don’t, they would be in trouble.”
Now that Texoma is well into severe weather season, here are just a few tornado safety reminders to always keep in mind.
- Stay away from windows and doors.
- Go to an interior hallway or closet.
- Turn up your TV or radio, so you can hear when the all-clear is sounded.
- If you’re in an apartment building, go to the lowest floor, and get into an interior room.
- Abandon mobile homes and go to the nearest shelter.
- If absolutely necessary, lie flat in a ditch covering your head.
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