Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado Preparedness
Throughout Oklahoma, the Spring severe weather season is typically the most threatening, damaging, and dangerous. Following basic guidance could protect you, your family and friends. The image above and statistics below, both from the National Weather Service, clearly emphasize the need for developing a Personal Severe Weather Plan, and for taking the steps necessary to maintain awareness.
As depicted above, the first week of May is historically the most active tornado period for Oklahoma; however, tornadoes have occurred in every month of the year. Preparedness is an on-going responsibility, not just reserved for a few days each year.
- Have a Plan! Communicate the plan to all family members or persons affected. Engage younger participants by giving them a responsibility such as “bringing the flashlight,” or “cleaning-out the closet” or other location intended for use as a shelter.
Include plans for when you are away from home, maybe if visiting a friend or relative, at church, at school, at your favorite restaurant, when shopping, etc. If you have children in school, know the plan at the school and discuss it with your children.
- Maintain Awareness – use multiple methods to obtain information, including local broadcast media, Programmable All-Hazards Radio, apps or software on electronic devices, Outdoor Warning Devices (OWD, storm sirens), and the Internet. “Local” media is emphasized because if watching television programming originating from out of state, watching a DVD or online programming, local and potentially critical information will not be presented.
If online or using an app or other electronic source, be certain of the timing of any information or messages received. Taking important actions based on “old” information could be dangerous!
- Purchase a Programmable All-Hazards Radio, available at most variety stores. As the name implies, these devices are capable of programming to receive Watches and Warnings for a specific county or counties, and to provide notification for a variety of threats. They also have a battery backup to provide additional protection during a power outage.
- Know the difference between an official “Watch,” and a “Warning.” Official Watches and Warnings are issued by the National Weather Service. A “Watch” indicates that conditions are favorable for the development of the identified hazard. A “Warning” indicates the identified hazard is occurring.
- Know in advance where to seek shelter in the event of tornadic activity. Be absolutely certain your chosen location is available, and go there well in advance of approaching severe weather. If the outdoor storm siren system is sounding, it is too late to relocate, take immediate shelter!
According to the National Weather Service, 97% of our tornado activity is rated at F-0, F-1, F-2, or F-3. A commonly constructed wood frame, masonry veneer structure can typically sustain a “hit” from these events, and portions remain intact – including small interior rooms or a closet, on the lowest level, away from exterior walls or openings. Do not travel during severe weather!
- Respond quickly and appropriately when an Outdoor Warning Device is activated in your area. These devices indicate an imminent threat is present. OWD alert may be difficult to hear because of wind, rain, or storm noise, or the sound may be blocked by heavily-insulated construction or insulated/multi-pane windows. If an OWD is activated near you-
- Seek immediate shelter in a pre-planned location, do not travel
- Seek additional information, specifically the location of the threat (battery powered radio, television, Internet, etc.)
- Heavy coats or clothing, blankets, bicycle helmets, etc., provide additional protection
“All-clear” signals are not provided by OWD systems. Severe thunderstorms/tornadoes often redevelop or repeatedly “train” over areas having already experienced a previous event. An “all-clear” activation could increase confusion, causing some to believe the danger has passed, while in reality the threat is still present, or has re-developed. Warr Acres OWD systems are usually tested on Saturdays at noon, weather permitting.
- Remember that there are more injuries and more property damage during “Severe Thunderstorm Warnings,” than during “Tornado Warnings.” This is because severe thunderstorms are more frequent and include multiple hazards, including large hail, frequent lightning, torrential rainfall (limiting visibility and causing flooding), and strong, potentially damaging winds.
Because tornadic activity is relatively common in Oklahoma, many people are desensitized to the dangers of non-tornadic severe thunderstorms. Severe Thunderstorm Warnings should always be taken seriously, including delayed travel plans and outdoor activities, and taking shelter away from windows and exterior openings.
- If sheltering with children, take books, easily-manageable games, a favorite (small) toy, or other familiar items to serve as a distraction and to reduce the child’s stress. Emergency planning, especially when children are involved, should include practice sessions. This will help reinforce the routine and reduce the stress of an urgent situation.
- If traveling or in a vehicle and severe weather or tornadic activity threatens, immediately seek shelter inside a substantial building. If no buildings are available and tornadic activity is threatening, you are safer in a ditch or low-lying area than inside a vehicle, while being aware of potential flooding issues. The best option is to delay travel or not drive into potentially severe weather activity, or when it is expected to develop.
- Lightning and flooding issues often accompany severe thunderstorms, and both have claimed hundreds of lives. If you can hear thunder, you are within reach of lightning. Move inside and avoid windows and other openings.
Never drive into water crossing a roadway. Only a few inches of moving water can sweep a vehicle from the road and you can never be certain that the road has not washed away under the water. TURN AROUND, DON’T DROWN!
For additional information and tips for being better prepared, see www.READY.gov