Deja Vu All Over Again
Long time residents of Olla and northwestern portions of LaSalle Parish may have just seen history repeat itself. The scene is a hot and muggy day, May 19, 1983. Strong southerly winds were ushering in warm, juicy Gulf of Mexico moisture. A strong upper level storm system was approaching from the west. The two features in combination with a fast moving west-to-east jet stream high in the atmosphere provided the perfect ingredients for a meteorological disaster.
Around 11:05 PM a tornado formed near the town of Urania and moved on a north-northeast track paralleling U.S. Highway 165. The storm took aim on the town of Olla at F3 intensity. Some 800 homes were damaged, 25 of those destroyed causing some 12 million dollars in total damage. One fatality was reported. The twister continued to the town of Kelly where it dissipated.
Sound familiar? It should. This scenario was played out again 21 1/2 years later on November 23, 2004. The damage paths of the two storms were close intersecting over the town of Olla. The 1983 storm took a more north-northeasterly trek; whereas, the 2004 storm took a more northeasterly one. To Olla residents, however, the result was the same - death and destruction.
Some people would tend to exclaim, “Well, tornadoes tend to move right over us!” Perhaps they might proclaim just the opposite, “Monroe is next to a river so tornadoes won’t strike here,” or “We live in a valley so we are protected.”
While research data has found some small “holes” in cumulative track maps, the exact cause is inconclusive. Gaps in recording tornado tracks due to lack of observations is one primary cause. Another possibility could indeed be attributed to the physical terrain. Whatever the cause, no one location is immune from a tornado strike.
The map below shows all recorded tornado paths in north Louisiana from 1950-1989. A higher concentration of paths can actually be seen in two distinct areas: 1) Southern Caddo/northern DeSoto parishes northeast to Webster and Claiborne parishes; 2) The Delta parishes of northeast Louisiana.
It should be noted that many paths cross. Therefore, anyone living beneath one of those intersection points would tend to believe tornadoes are attracted to that particular spot. The map below depicts the path of the two Olla tornado events.
*Note: After quite extensive research on the 1983 Olla tornado track, I have been unable to find consistent documentation as to its exact path. One takes it from Urania to Kelly, another takes it from Joyce to Olla to Copenhagen, and yet still others exist. Based on interviews from those who experienced this storm, it will be depicted as above unless further information becomes available. One thing for sure, it did hit Olla.
To the residents of Olla, perhaps you can breathe a sigh of relief. Statistically, another strike is not looming over the horizon. On the other hand the clock has been reset; tornadoes can strike anytime, anywhere. This message also goes out to the naysayers living in valleys or next to rivers. When severe weather threatens, be prepared to take action quickly.