According to OKC.gov, Oklahoma City has had more tornado strikes than any other U.S. city. That means that residents in Oklahoma City and surrounding areas have to be vigilant and aware of the dangers so that you know what do—and how to do it fast—when one hits close to home.
Oklahoma Tornado Watches and Warnings
The National Weather Service will issue a tornado watch when it’s possible for a tornado to happen in your area. It issues a tornado warning if a tornado is already indicated on the weather radar, or if one has been observed nearby. A tornado occurs when there are violent winds from a violent, funnel-shaped cloud. When there is a thunderstorm and cool air overrides a layer of warm air, the warm air could rise rapidly and form a tornado.
What are the signs of a tornado?
One of the best ways to know if a tornado is approaching is to stay tuned to your local weather forecast. But, if that’s not possible, be alert. A tornado could be approaching if:
- A cloud base is rotating (even if it appears slow), instead of gliding through the sky.
- There is a storm cloud forming a “wall”, or a large lowering cloud formation.
- There is whirling dust debris beneath a large storm cloud base.
- There is a heavy storm with heavy rain and hail that stops suddenly and becomes very quiet.
- The sky becomes greenish-black.
- Large hail is falling.
- You hear a loud, continuous roar or rumble that lasts longer than typical thunder. It can also sound like a waterfall. Sometimes, an approaching tornado sounds like a train or airplane.
- Debris begins to fall from the sky. The tornado could have formed and picked up objects from the ground.
- There are bright ground flashes near a thunderstorm at night that are blue, green or white. It could indicate that a tornado is blowing out power transformers.
What do I do if a tornado is coming?
If you become aware that a tornado is approaching, or if you suspect that it is a possibility, you must act fast. Being prepared in advance and knowing where to go and how to respond are the keys to surviving a tornado.
At home, go to your basement, storm cellar or the lowest level of your building. If that’s not possible, take shelter in an inner hallway or small inner room that does not have windows. Sometimes bathrooms or closets are the best household shelters. Stay away from windows and stay in the center of the room, away from corners because they attract debris. If you can crawl under a piece of sturdy furniture like a heavy table, do so and use your arms to protect your head and neck. If necessary, hold on to the table or shelter furniture to keep it secure and as motionless as possible.
At school or work, do the same thing as you would at home. Look for the lowest possible level like the basement. If there is no basement, head to an inner hallway at the lowest level. Avoid spaces with wide-span roofs like auditoriums, cafeterias, gymnasiums or shopping malls. Like at home, if you can hide beneath a heavy table or desk and cover your head and neck with your arms, do so.
Outdoors, take shelter immediately! If there is a building nearby, go inside at once. If not, lie in a ditch or other low-lying area. If you can get to a strong building, crouch alongside it. Be aware that tornadoes bring potential for flooding.
In the car, if you can take shelter inside a building, do so immediately. Don’t try to “race” the tornado by outdriving it. A tornado could change direction without warning and could lift a vehicle and toss it through the air. If you cannot reach indoor shelter, do not take cover under a bridge! Instead, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low-lying area. Be wary of flooding.
In a mobile home, you should evacuate and shelter in a building with a strong foundation. Mobile homes can overturn easily in a tornado, even if they are tied down. If there is not an available building, head a safe distance away from the unit and follow the advice for what you should do if you’re outdoors in a tornado (above).
Supplies to have on hand in case of a tornado
Having an emergency kit on hand can help if you need to take shelter or evacuate in an emergency. Keep a bag handy that includes the following:
- Camera (to document damage afterwards)
- Flashlights with batteries
- First aid kit
- Emergency food and water
- Personal identification, relevant medical information, other essential paperwork
- Spare keys to vehicles
- Can opener (manual)
- Sturdy shoes
- Medicines (for everyone in your family, including pets)
- Cash and credit cards
As well, have an emergency plan in place in case you become separated from your family members. It’s a good idea to have a long-distance relative or friend be your “point person” for communications. If telephone service becomes unavailable locally, you might be able to make a long-distance call more easily than a local call. If that’s the case, the selected person outside the local area can be in communication with everyone individually until you can connect with one another directly. Each family member should know the contact person’s name, address and phone number.
Remember, your local weather forecasters are the best resource for updating information when threatening weather is on its way. Stay tuned, stay alert and stay safe!