Story by Brayden Conover - Photos from the 15th Street News’ archives
Storm season in Oklahoma is as unique to the state as the Sooner Schooner and Pistol Pete. Although many Oklahomans brave the storms and even look forward to storm season, very few like to see the destruction that Mother Nature too often leaves behind. This state has seen its fair share of destruction, but for each tale of destruction and death rise two more tales of heroism, bravery and love for thy neighbor. Whether it’s April 9, 1947, May 3, 1999 or the outbreaks of May 20 and 31 of 2013, there’s a date tied to many Oklahomans that will haunt them for the rest of their lives.
Steve Carano has helped Oklahomans through some of their toughest days. The former broadcast weatherman for KFOR and KOCO is a professor of Earth Sciences at Rose State. Carano has served Oklahomans for more than 20 years. He’s seen the worst that both Mother Nature and man have to offer, but out of those tragedies, he’s seen the best in people. From working in the makeshift morgue at the Murrah bombing to keeping us safe during storm season, Carano has been there for Oklahomans.
On May 3, 1999, Carano was storm chasing for KFOR News Channel 4 when the outbreak of the tornadoes occurred. He was relaying information to Meteorologist Mike Morgan and the public as the F5 tore its path from Altus all the way up the H.E. Bailey Turnpike. When Carano and his videographer arrived just northeast of Asher, the tornado was so strong that it blew the back window out of his chase vehicle. It was not until later that Oklahomans would learn these storms brought the highest wind speeds ever recorded.
“David [Payne] didn’t take damage and he was three car lengths ahead of me,” Carano said. “At that point we knew it was going to be bad, bad, bad.”
Carano and Payne kept eyes on the twister as it headed toward the metro. Carano stayed on a northward track to intercept one of the 72 tornadoes that ripped across the state in a 48-hour time frame. Payne followed the storm as it tore through Del City, Midwest City and Rose State. The tornado Carano chased was near Mulhall and Piedmont. It was dark and power was out all over the city. Carano and his videographer were driving on fumes.
“You forget that you need electricity to pump gas,” Carano said.
He pulled up to a farmhouse as the storm grew close. If no one answered the door, they would break a window and seek shelter in the house as the storm passed, instead of riding it out in his chase vehicle. Fortunately for Carano, someone did answer. An elderly woman answered the door and Carano explained who he was and that he needed gas. The woman proceeded to notify her husband.
“I thought it was kind of weird that she opened the door if her husband was home,” explained Carano. “Usually the husband answers the door if there’s strangers on the porch.”
Carano asked the man if he had any unleaded gas. To his surprise, the man had 15 gallons in his barn used for his tractor.
“I saw that as my guardian angel,” Carano said.
Most farmers don’t have unleaded gas, as most farm equipment takes diesel fuel. The fact that Carano pulled up to a random farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, that had enough fuel to get himself and his videographer home, astounds Carano still to this day.
This story exemplifies the Oklahoma standard. When strangers are in need, those who are able to help do just that.
“I couldn’t tell you where I was … I’ve tried to go back and find that house but I can’t find it,” Carano stated.
He pulled back into the Channel 4 parking lot around 2 or 3 a.m. because of the debris, road closures and lights out everywhere. He got his footage to the newsroom and debriefed with Morgan and the rest of the storm team.
Once he was home, Carano could not sleep. He was running on pure adrenaline and emotion from the past 12 or more hours and could not seem to shake the images from his mind. Just as he might have started to wind down, it was time to head right back out as another wave of severe weather set its sights on the OKC metro.
“I didn’t sleep for at least 36 hours,” Carano said.
May 3, 1999 is a day most Oklahomans know and those who were old enough will never forget. Carano said it will never leave his mind.
“I still have flashbacks when I go down there,” he said when asked what it’s like today, seeing the towns that were in the twister’s ravaging path. In fact, the tornado bothers him more than the Murrah bombing. Carano worked in the makeshift morgue and helped with communications on April 19, 1995.
“We could hold someone accountable for what happened in Oklahoma City. We can’t put a killer tornado on trial and give it the death penalty,” he said.
Carano has dedicated his life to making sure people are safe, while putting himself in harm’s way. By doing so, he has been a personification of the Oklahoman standard. Carano has kept Oklahomans safe for more than 20 years. Although he no longer chases for a news station, he is teaching his students how to become the next generation of Oklahomans to inform and protect the public from Mother Nature’s fury.