The Norman Transcript

Local news

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
Local news
  • Injury accident reported

    Transcript Staff Emergency crews responded to an injury accident around 10:20 p.m. Sunday in the 1000 block of 80th Avenue Southeast where there were reports of someone pinned. Several reports indicated a vehicle struck a tree causing one ...

    July 28, 2014

  • Braddy_1. Norman North teen struck by freight train recovering with therapy

    A Norman North teen struck by a freight train in May is on the road to recovery and ready to get back to school after spending most of his summer in a hospital. Harrison Braddy, 16, has been staying busy with rehab and physical therapy ...

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Migrant kids go to Mass

    The services have all the elements of a typical Sunday Mass — singing, scripture, a sermon, prayers, communion and worship....

    July 27, 2014

  • Prisons expand reach to bring training to more officers

    McALESTER — Joshua Drake once was offered the chance to be a corrections officer but turned it down because he didn’t want to leave his wife and aging parents for six weeks to train hundreds of miles away in El Reno....

    July 27, 2014

  • Storm victims face loan dilemma

    The tornadoes, flooding and hail that struck Oklahoma last year left hundreds of millions of dollars in property damage, causing many home and business owners to seek help in the form of low-interest federal loans....

    July 27, 2014

  • SWIMMER Aquatic center could serve many community needs

    Michael Yoch could have been the kid with asthma sitting on the sidelines — could have been, but wasn’t. Michael had trouble running because of his asthma, which made it difficult to play soccer and many other sports his friends loved. ...

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • Director leaves decade of memories

    Maureen Dolan is giving up the post as director of St. Joseph’s Early Childhood Development Center, fondly called “St. Joe’s” by the many parents whose pre-school children have spent their weekdays under her care over the past 10 years....

    July 27, 2014

  • Teen critical after rescue

    A 17-year-old Yukon male was transported to the hospital Sunday after a near drowning incident at Lake Thunderbird in the Party Cove area. Emergency crews responded to the lake after a report of a possible drowning around 5:30 p.m. ...

    July 27, 2014

  • County wreck fatal

    A Purcell man was killed in a single-vehicle wreck Saturday morning on Highway 77, north of Moffatt Road in Cleveland County. Keith Hedrick, 20, was pinned for about an hour and 45 minutes before the Slaughterville Fire Department was ...

    July 27, 2014

  • New library leaders

    The Pioneer Library System has familiar faces taking over leadership roles with its two hometown libraries....

    July 27, 2014