Being Weather Aware in Oklahoma
“Oooooklahoma where the wind comes sweeping down the plain!”
Rodgers and Hammerstein definitely knew what they were talking about when they wrote the opening words to the famous musical. Around 1,000 tornadoes touch down in the United States each year and a large number of those twisters seem to strike right here in Oklahoma. Born and raised Okies barely flinch when tornado sirens blare, but springtime can be understandably stressful for visitors who might not be familiar with tornado safety. Don't let the weather keep you from visiting Oklahoma - instances of severely damaging tornadoes are rare!
Below are some tips to help keep you safe (information from the National Weather Service). Please note that this list is not comprehensive and in the event of severe weather you should tune in to a local weather station and do as they advise. You can also sign up to receive local weather alerts from The Weather Channel.
Where is “Tornado Alley”?
Tornado Alley is used to describe northern Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and parts of Colorado, where tornadic activity is high. It is important to note, however, that tornadoes can occur anywhere and even though they are most likely to occur in the spring, can happen any month of the year. March through May is widely known as “tornado season” but November is known as “second tornado season.” It is just important to be weather aware no matter what time of the year you are traveling.
Tornado Watch vs. Tornado Warning
It is important to understand the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning because they are very different. A tornado watch simply indicates that the potential for the development of severe weather exists. A tornado warning, on the other hand, signals that a severe thunderstorm has already developed and has either already produced a tornado or radar has indicated high potential for one.
If you encounter a tornado while on the road:
- If at all possible, get off the road and find safety
- If that is not an option, then try to get lower than the level of the roadway – lie down in a ditch and cover your head. Be aware of potential flooding
- Stay away from trees, cars, and anything that can become flying debris
- Never try to out-drive a tornado.
- Never take refuge under a highway overpass
NOTE: Remember, if possible, seek shelter indoors in a sturdy building. Remaining in your car or lying down in a ditch is an absolute last resort!
Tips for traveling during severe weather season:
- Ask about the hotel’s or venue tornado safety plan upon arrival
- If possible plug in your smart phone so it is fully charged in case the power goes out
- If you are especially concerned about power outages, consider traveling with a NOAA weather radio
- In the event of severe weather:
- If there is not a designated safe place or basement, take shelter in an interior hall on the bottom floor
- Stay away from windows and outside walls
- Cover yourself with blankets or a mattress if possible
Local OKC Resources:
- The local OKC news stations do a wonderful job of covering severe weather, and their weather prediction technology is very precise. Any of the major stations will be able to tell you exactly where the tornado problem areas are, and you will have enough time to get to a safe place
- The City of Shawnee has a weather alert and management system that will send e-mails or text messages to anyone that signs up
- If the power goes out, all of the local TV stations live stream their coverage, so you will be able to watch on your phone
Local stations have also developed weather apps to help keep you safe during a storm. Download one of these apps so that you can watch live radar in the event of a power outage
- News 9 Weather App – in addition to radars and forecasts, this app works as a severe weather radio right on your phone and will alert you if severe weather is in your area (even if you do not have the app open).
- KFOR 4Warn Me App – this app offers a live stream of breaking weather events
- KOCO News First Alert Weather App – this app features a live interactive radar, livestream broadcast, and school and business closings
These are just a few tips for being safe during severe weather. The most important thing to do is stay aware of the weather in the area where you are staying. For more information on tornado safety visit the National Weather Service