National Geographic : 1971 Aug
EKTACHROMES © N.G.S. a day and a night for the rain to stop, and woke to stare from my hotel room at a metropolis in flood. Nearly eight inches had fallen. Early in October, in east-central Oklahoma, a tornado twisted through Shawnee and other communities (left, lower). It took the lives of four persons and injured scores. Three days later, a freak storm buried much of the Pan handle under seven inches of snow. And on December 2, the thermometer climbed to 75° in Oklahoma City. These represent extreme extremes, of course. But why such awesome variety? Oklahoma happens to be the place where-particularly in fall and spring-warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico collides with cold, dry arctic air. A State's Vision: Water Flowing Uphill Sooners can't do much about that. On the other hand, what they are doing about their water is monumental. With dams on most of her rivers, Oklahoma has become a land of lakes; 48 reservoirs have been authorized, and 24 com pleted. One of the first, Lake 0' The Cherokees, built by the state thirty years ago, extends 66 channel miles and has 1,300 miles of shoreline. Federal agencies constructed vir tually all the other dams and impoundments. The largest, Eufaula, covers more than twice the area of Lake 0' The Cherokees. Now, planning engineers forecast a four-billion-dollar outlay in the next two or three decades to bring east Okla homa's surplus water to the west. Federal and local engi neers propose to build 69 additional multipurpose reservoirs -to provide water for cities and industries, hydroelectric power, flood control, irrigation, and recreation. Oklahoma tilts upward from 287 feet above sea level in the southeast to 4,973 feet in the Panhandle. Annual rain fall ranges from 54 or more inches in the east to a scant 16 inches in the northwest. Water thus must be conveyed uphill for hundreds of miles across the state by a series of pump ing stations and canals. "Within 15 years," declares Forrest Nelson, executive director of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, "Okla homa City must have more water. Parts of the west need more right now. We are studying plans for an open-ditch canal system, concrete lined, to carry water from the south east to Oklahoma City, and out to the southwest. Most of the system will probably be 9 feet deep and 26 feet wide. We'll bridge it over rivers and tunnel it under highways." This positive, "can do" attitude also manifests itself in Weather on a rampage-and business as usual. Cleaving an angry sky, a lightning bolt flashes beyond Lake Thunderbird, near Norman (above). During a tornado that twisted through Shawnee, the top of a building landed beside a gas station that lost its roof. Lying in a transitional zone between the humid south and colder northern climes, Oklahoma often be comes a battleground of huge air masses. The result: squall lines of gully-washing rains and violent winds.