Oklahoma's peak tornado season typically runs from March to May, with more than 80 percent striking between noon and midnight.
Approximately five years ago, a tornado struck Moore, Oklahoma, killing 24, and leaving a 17-mile path of destruction. Seven years ago, a tornado struck Joplin, Missouri, killing 158 people, and causing $2.8 billion in damages. The U.S. experiences more tornadoes than any other country in the world, and yet getting people to prepare for an emergency before it happens is not always easy. Unfortunately, it usually takes a disaster for people to realize the life and death importance of preparing for the unexpected.
Oklahoma’s peak tornado season typically runs from March to May, with more than 80 percent striking between noon and midnight. And although technology has made it increasingly possible to identify weather patterns that favor tornado formation, it remains a challenge to forecast exactly where and when a tornado will form. This results in relatively short lead times. Research shows that most people wait until bad news is confirmed by a second source before taking action. Emergency officials warn people to act at first warning, especially from weather experts. Take shelter yourself, then, be the second source that confirms the emergency for others by phone or social media.
So even though we can’t prevent a tornado or storm, there are actions we can take to protect ourselves and family.
Before dangerous weather occurs, like a tornado, locate, update, and prepare to use the following:Battery operated communications - Keep fresh batteries and a battery-powered radio or TV on hand as electrical power is often interrupted during thunderstorms, just when information about weather warnings is most needed. Know ahead of time which stations to tune in to for emergency broadcast information. For cellphone - keep one handy and keep the battery charged. Bear in mind that network coverage can be disrupted due to weather. Fire extinguisher – check the expiration date making sure the product still functions, and know how to use it properly. First aid kit - locate and update contents (check expiration dates). Emergency kit - locate and update contents (batteries, bottled water, snacks, etc.) Emergency plan - create or review your plan (see websites below for help). It pays to have a preparedness plan, not only due to tornadoes, but in case of fire, storms, or power outages. Safety helmets - There’s little research on the effectiveness of helmet use to prevent head injuries during a tornado, however head injuries are common causes of death during tornadoes. The Center for Disease Control has long made the recommendation that people try to protect their heads. Because the time to react may be very short, if people choose to use helmets they should know where they are and have them readily accessible. Contact information lists - police, fire, hospital, and insurance agent (including policy type and number), utilities (electric, gas, and water companies, and know where and how to shut off utilities at the main switches or valves). The name of the county or parish you live in (warnings are issued by county or parish). The emergency dismissal policy for your child's school.
During tornado weather warnings:Listen to local radio or television stations for updated information. If the electricity should go out, you will still be able to receive emergency information on a battery-operated device. If you're at home, go to your pre-identified safe zone to protect yourself from glass and other flying objects. If possible, seek shelter under a piece of large, sturdy furniture, such as a large table or workbench to protect yourself from falling debris or flying objects. Stay away from windows. Do NOT open them. If you're not in your home, seek shelter in the basement or an interior room of a nearby, sturdy building. Do not try to outrun a tornado in your car; instead, leave it immediately. If no shelter is available, lie flat in a low spot with your arms and hands protecting your head. Contrary to popular belief, seeking shelter underneath a highway or railroad overpass does not provide any measurable safety. Remain in your safe zone or shelter until you have received an all-clear signal, either from sirens or your radio.
When it comes to tornadoes, appearances can be deceptive. Tornadoes are highly variable, and size doesn’t necessarily correlate with strength. Large ones can be weak, and some of the smallest funnels are the most destructive. Typically, tornadoes move from southwest to northeast, but tornadoes can move in any direction and can change their direction, sometimes suddenly. Consequently, relying on senses can be misleading. So expecting to be able to visually understand a tornado is a dangerous misperception.
Severe weather can happen at any time, but planning for the unpredictable offers the best chance of keeping you and your family safe.
For help creating your own emergency plan, visit the Ottawa County Health Department’s website at http://www.ok.gov/health/County_Health_Departments/Ottawa_County_Health_Department/.
The Red Cross website at http://www.redcross.org/prepare/disaster/tornado provides information on tornado safety, and to register for the life-saving service of tornado updates and alerts, go to the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management at www.ok.gov/OEM/.
Sean Bridges is Health Educator for the Delaware and Ottawa County Health Departments.