Twenty years ago on May 3, 1999, dozens of tornadoes hit Oklahoma in a 21-hour timeframe, killing 44 people, including a Shawnee woman, and injuring more than 800 as the storms destroyed thousands of homes across the state and leveled Stroud’s Tanger Outlet Mall.
There were a total of 74 tornadoes reported in Oklahoma and Kansas that spring day. A total of 58 tornadoes occurred in the National Weather Service Norman forecast area in central and southwestern Oklahoma during afternoon and evening hours.
“At one point, there were as many as four tornadoes reported on the ground at the same time. The strongest tornado, rated a maximum F-5 on the Fujita Tornado Scale, tracked for nearly an hour and a half along a 38-mile path from Chickasha through south Oklahoma City and the suburbs of Bridge Creek, Newcastle, Moore, Midwest City and Del City,” according to the National Severe Storms Laboratory. With winds measured at more than 300 mph, that twister was a mile wide at times.
Numerous other tornadoes were recorded and included an F-2 that touched down as it passed through Shawnee, damaging many homes along that path.
Victoria “Vicki” J. Sweatt, 41, died when a tornado hit her Shawnee area mobile home that was located on Valley View Road, about 2.5 miles north of 45th Street on Acme Road.
Sweatt and one of her 13 year-old twin daughters were riding out the storm inside their home. According to news archives, the mobile home imploded and seemed to collapse with Sweatt trapped inside. Sweatt’s daughter, Jessica, was thrown about 100 yards from the mobile home and suffered minor injuries, news archives read. Sweatt was a lifelong Shawnee resident who graduated from Shawnee High School in 1976.
That Shawnee area twister also cut a path through the Clark Heights addition near U.S. 177 and 45th Street, with several homes there sustaining major damage.
Residents with flashlights wandered the wrecked neighborhood that night to check on their friends and neighbors, while Shawnee firefighters searched houses for anyone possibly trapped inside.
That same night, an F-1 twister destroyed the sanctuary of Pink Baptist Church in western Pottawatomie County. According to the history page on the church's website, the sanctuary, nursery, and several classrooms were ruined and the west end of the gymnasium had a gaping hole, which was later repaired. Services were held in the gym until the new sanctuary was built and formally dedicated in June 2002.
In nearby Stroud, an F-3 twister caused damaged throughout that Lincoln County town and even leveled the town’s well-known Tanger Outlet Mall along Interstate 44. That mall, which had more than 50 stores and a big economic impact on the town, was never rebuilt.
Thousands of Oklahoma homes were destroyed or damaged on May 3, 1999, with the storm damage having a $1.5 billion impact in the state.