Forecaster warns state to brace for May
Shhhh! Hear that? Don’t hear anything? Exactly. Oklahoma has essentially escaped the usual sounds of spring – pelting hail, the swoosh of high rains, high winds, the crash of damage on the other side of the door.
And interestingly, this is tornado week in Oklahoma.
While tornados have stuck elsewhere in the U.S., Oklahoma’s weather has been uncharacteristically quiet so far, said Gary McManus, associate state climatologist, Oklahoma Climatological Survey.
“The tornados have pretty well missed us and we really haven’t been that active with any type of severe weather,” said McManus.
McManus conceded it has partly been luck. Some storms have formed, wreaking havoc, then losing steam over Oklahoma. Others have formed very close to us, but didn’t drop a tornado or a hail stone until passing us by.
So why the respite? Without throwing about fancy weather terms, basically, several weather phenonenoma have kept the Sooner state a little cooler than usual. Tornados usually are born when cool air above clashes with warm air, combined with a few other ideal weather-related circumstances.
But don’t become too comfortable, yet. Several of the worst storms in history have hit Oklahoma in early May, is in right now.
May usually brings ideal tornado conditions – warm weather near the earth’s surface, Oklahoma’s high winds and the cool temperatures in the so-called jet stream, about 10,000 or more above the ground.
“There’s just a perfect combination of everything that happens during May that makes it our main tornado threat month,” McManus said. People should never think we’re out of the woods when we get into May.”
“I would always caution that each May is going to the worst month we’ve seen. That way we’re always prepared.”
Based on statistics kept since 1950, the state’s tornado season usually averages 53 annually. It peaks in May, and then begins easing off in the summer.
So far this year, southern US states have been visited by well over 100 tornados, many of them leaving damage and tragedy in their wake.
According to officials from the National Weather Service, a couple of tornados touched down on March 8 in western Oklahoma, including an EF2- rated twister that damaged parts of tiny Hammon, OK.
A weak tornado touched down near Bryans Corner in Beaver County on April 22. No damage or injuries were reported. Oklahoma’s tornado count so far this year is three.
Oklahoma’s muted severe weather season so far has resulted from a combination of favorable climate factors.
McManus also cautioned that complacency is not a wise approach.
A quiet start is not always an accurate indication of what the rest of the severe weather season will look like, he said.
Oklahoma experienced a very quiet January-April in 1998 with only two tornadoes reported. The storm season soon became much more active with 22 tornadoes reported during both May and June. The total for that year ended at 83.
That serves as a reminder to stay prepared because the state’s fortunes can change rapidly with the next bout of severe weather.
Tornado sirens remain important tool for citizen safety
Although the spring 2010 has been quiet in terms of severe weather, tornado sirens remain an important community tool, city emergency officials say.
In Oklahoma City, the sirens mean the National Weather Service has issued a tornado warning for one or more counties that Oklahoma City stretches into.
The City sounds all of its sirens in the county for which a warning has been issued.
The sirens are residents’ cue to go indoors and immediately turn on a television or radio and get information about the storm’s intensity and location.
“Activating all of the sirens may irritate some residents, but it is incumbent on us to err on the side of safety,” Oklahoma City’s emergency manager, Police Sgt. Frank Barnes said. “We want to give all residents sufficient time to take protective actions.
“We know it can be sunny on Midwest Boulevard in the eastern half of Oklahoma City while a tornado is brewing near Rockwell in the western part of the City.
Severe weather and tornados move, and drivers need to know what they might be traveling into. It also gives people an opportunity to call family and friends in the threatened area to make sure they heard the warning.”
Sirens sound for three minutes each time they are activated and are sounded each time a new warning is issued.
“It’s important to know that when the sirens stop, it does not indicate the threat of a tornado has passed. Oklahoma City does not give an “all clear” signal.”
Those who need to take cover should bring a battery-operated or all-hazards weather radio with them so they can track the storm and will know when danger has passed.
There is no uniform statewide or nationwide policy on when to sound tornado sirens. Different cities have different policies.
Oklahoma City tests tornado sirens at noon on Saturdays when there is no threat of severe weather.