The Norman Transcript

Headlines

May 5, 2013

Veterans balance preparedness, practicality during tornadoes, storms

NORMAN — Few things in nature are less predictable than a tornado. They can form quickly. They strike weirdly, leveling one building while leaving its neighbor untouched. They can fling a car a half-mile and turn a piece of lumber into a wall-piercing missile.

In spring 2011, as a series of tornadoes devastated Alabama, Rita White tracked an EF-5 monster moving over Limestone County, where she works as emergency management director. The tornado was miles from her office in Athens, but her husband was texting her about pieces of tin falling on the roof of their house in the northwest Alabama city.

Also falling from the sky over Athens were blue jeans scattered from a Wrangler factory the tornado had obliterated 77 miles away.

“They do baffling things,” said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla.

How do you prepare for a freak of nature? Even people who live in tornado-tested places have mixed feelings about how much is necessary. Tightened building standards and storm shelters are obvious tools to brace for vicious wind and debris, but tornado veterans balance those steps with pragmatism. Rigid building codes and shelters cost money, and the odds of being hit by one of the storms are actually relatively low.

Patterns and planning: While tornadoes are unpredictable — they can happen any time of year, any time of day, and strike all 50 states — they aren’t totally random, either. We’re in the thick of “tornado weather,” March through July, and the storms are far more common in parts of the South, West and Midwest than they are elsewhere.

Tornadoes don’t tend to hit cities, either, if only because of probabilities. There is far more undeveloped land than buildings in the places where tornadoes usually form.

“Most of the time they’re out scaring cows,” says Keith Stammer, director of emergency management for Joplin and Jasper County, Missouri, which withstood a massive EF-5 tornado — the top of the scale, with winds reaching 200 to 250 mph — on May 22, 2011. The storm destroyed a third of Joplin, killed 161 people and caused up to $2.8 billion in damage, making it the costliest tornado on record, according to the National Weather Service.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
Headlines
  • Junior Police Graduation First Junior Police Academy graduates

    The room went dark and a slideshow flipped through photos of children participating in the first Junior Police Academy as kids chattered excitedly, remembering what they had done over the past two weeks. Norman Police Department hosted ...

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Officials say transparency lacking in Wal-Mart zoning

    Norman city staff recently admitted to withholding information from the public regarding a controversial zoning change in southeast Norman. If approved by the city council, the proposal will allow a Wal-Mart supercenter at Cedar Lane and ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Air Algerie jet crashes with 116 on board

    OUAGADOUGO, Burkina Faso — An Air Algerie jetliner carrying 116 people crashed Thursday in a rainstorm over restive Mali, and its wreckage was found near the border of neighboring Burkina Faso — the third major international aviation ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Nonprofit raises $3.9M-plus for new center

    The Center for Children and Families, a United Way of Norman partner agency, announced Thursday that it exceeded its public fundraising goal of $3.5 million and raised more than $3.9 million to complete the purchase and renovation of a ...

    July 25, 2014

  • Bad year won’t dampen peachy tradition

    PORTER — A rusting, silver-colored water tower tells visitors to this rural town between Muskogee and Tulsa that they’ve come to the “Peach Capitol of Oklahoma.” Residents of Stratford, the state’s other self-proclaimed peach capital, ...

    July 26, 2014

  • Union Market opens this fall on campus

    Shelves are being stocked as employees buzz around like busy bees and activities are in the last stages of prep as the University of Oklahoma anticipates the opening of its new eatery Union Market, located in the Oklahoma Memorial Union in ...

    July 26, 2014

  • OU football recruit under investigation in assault case

    An attorney representing Joe Mixon confirmed Friday evening that the highly-recruited Oklahoma running back is being investigated by Norman Police in connection with an incident in which a woman suffered multiple facial fractures early ...

    July 26, 2014

  • Campus Cornerassault

    Norman Police responded to an alleged aggravated assault at the Campus Corner Pickelmans Gourmet Cafe early Friday morning....

    July 26, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia firing across border

    KIEV, Ukraine — Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the ...

    July 26, 2014

  • McCain: Arizona execution ‘torture’

    TUCSON, Ariz. — U.S. Sen. John McCain says the execution of an Arizona inmate that lasted two hours was torture....

    July 26, 2014