Nancy E. Davis crouched alone in her white barn as a tornado tossed off the roof and peeled back the walls.
Maybe it was luck that saved her then, in 1999. Maybe it was fate.
But that memory, of a tornado that leveled her home 14 years ago, came rushing back this week when the 94-year-old learned that another twister barreled toward her. Her ears popped from the pressure change. A dark spiral descended from the clouds.
When it hit, the tornado was so loud that you couldn't hear a person speak. She thought maybe the storm had kicked the Earth off its axis. Maybe the world was spinning too slow, she thought. Or too fast.
"I just knew it was going to happen again," she told me on Wednesday, two days after the second storm. "That it was going to run right through us."
Sadly, she was right. Davis, a spry woman with curly white hair and blue-gray eyes, lives on a square-mile block of land in southwest Oklahoma City that took a direct hit from two major tornadoes: one in 1999, which generated winds estimated at 302 mph and left dozens dead, and Monday's twister, which killed 24 and caused an estimated $2 billion in property damage. If you look at a map of both storm tracks, they make a flimsy "X," like the shape of a chromosome.
Where the paths cross, that's where Davis lives. It's a neighborhood with coordinates but no name. Locals refer to it simply as SW 149 and May Avenue. It's a place of odd coincidence. May is the month when both tornadoes hit.
"We are the epicenter," said Mel Miller, a 55-year-old who was helping a friend search for her belongings. "We are like the bull's-eye on the target."
I flew into Oklahoma City on Tuesday afternoon, the day after the storm, wondering how two twisters of such magnitude could possibly hit the same block. And, more important, how people would react. Would they dig in their heels and stay? would they say enough is enough? What does the constant threat of storms do to a person? I'm not completely new to that last question. I grew up near this city. I did tornado drills in school, climbed into a closet full of suitcases and photo albums when sirens went off, and stood on the porch watching storms roll by when they were at a safe-ish distance.
Tornadoes are part of life here. I get that. Every place has its risks, and here they happen to fall from the sky. And tornadoes do present advantages of sorts: They come with warning, unlike earthquakes. They're more targeted than the shotgun spray of hurricanes; a tornado may pulverize one house and strip only the shingles from the one next door.
But when I arrived this week, I stepped into a bizarro version of home.
From the plane, I saw the path of the storm, which marched like a lead-footed giant across southern Oklahoma City and Moore.
The sky was purple and yellow, the air deadly still.
It was a surreal, eerie scene. It didn't make sense anymore.
I drove toward 149-at-May, the block twice in the cross hairs, from the north, leaving behind geometric subdivisions with sturdy brick fences and names like "The Legacy" and finding a post-apocalyptic mess that's almost impossible for a brain to compute: metal draped like laundry over power lines; homes turned to matchsticks; trees snapped at the ankles; dead horses, one floating in a pond; the smell of natural gas and freshly cut wood; hunks of yellow and pink insulation floating through the air like jellyfish; cars turned into aluminum cans; fence posts laid flat.
"All this land right here, this is the hot zone," said Kevin Shelley, 35, pointing to an unrecognizable heap of junk. It was his house -- which I didn't know until he told me.
Shelley was at home playing video games as the storm built steam on Monday. A friend called to alert him.
Like a surprising number of people in Oklahoma, Shelley didn't have an underground tornado shelter, so he jumped in his car and took off. How did he know which way to go? Well, he's seen tornadoes here before. "It's pretty much historically proven that it goes -- pshhh! -- right here," he said, motioning from his house toward others to the east, toward Moore. "It's the landscape, I guess. It's pretty much the exact same path the '99 storm took."
The paths of the two storms are remarkably similar. In both cases, the tornadoes dropped out of the sky just west of Shelley's neighborhood. The 1999 twister snaked to the north and east; the 2013 tornado tracked more eastward.
Scientifically, that's pure coincidence.
Tornadoes are common in Oklahoma because the state, and others in tornado alley, sits at the confluence of three air masses: wet, hot air from the Gulf of Mexico; dry, hot air from for-real Mexico; and cold air from Canada. But within that context, it's just chance any one spot would get pummeled twice in 14 years, said Rick Smith, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norman.
"There is nothing -- meteorologically or scientifically -- that would favor one particular area over another."
Still, Shelley's not sure he'll risk rebuilding here.
"It's a bad area. It's Tornado Alley, man," he said. "That's the path. That's where they go. It may not happen for five, six or seven years. But it'll do it again."
Others had similar reactions to the second storm.