The Norman Transcript

March 13, 2014

Panelists:Be prepared for storms

By Joey Stipek
The Norman Transcript

MOORE — During a Wednesday evening forum in Moore, panelists discussed the importance of being prepared during sudden outbursts of severe weather and tornadoes.

Panelists included Harold Brooks, researcher at NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, Michelann Ooten, deputy director at Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management, and Rick Smith, meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Norman Forecast Office.

The forum was hosted at the Moore Public Library, less than a mile from where a deadly EF-5 tornado struck May 20, killing 24 people and injuring 377. The forum was sponsored by public radio station KGOU as a part of their special reporting project, “Ahead of the Storm: The Oklahoma Tornado Project.”

During tornado threats, residents should get as low as they can and get walls and barriers between them, Smith said. The National Weather Service surveyed 4,200 structures affected by the May 20 tornado and found that only nine structures had assessed EF-5 level damage.

“If you have shelter, you will be fine,” Smith said.

In the case of all recent large tornadoes that have struck Oklahoma, Smith said the NWS has had advanced warnings several days out. While the NWS knew of the May 20 tornado around May 15, the Norman forecast office is fairly conservative, Smith said.

“If they are talking about it five days in advance, you should pay attention,” Smith said.

You don’t need to change your routine during severe weather, but Smith said residents should remain mindful of severe weather when it occurs.

He said residents should check for shelter options in the community and have a weather plan and kit.

“You can’t do it when the tornado warning hits. You need to do it today,” Smith said.

Smith also encouraged people to have three primary sources to get information during severe weather.

Smith said while smartphones and television are the top ways to stay informed, there is always the chance of a power outage.

“Weather radio is the most efficient way to stay informed during a storm,” Smith said.

NOAA staff tweeted a message on Twitter to see the response it would generate from followers of the account. The NOAA found that a lot of people didn’t notice the message for 15 to 20 minutes.

Brooks said the NOAA views this as a challenge in the age of social media.

NOAA plans to examine social media usage this summer to determine how messages go and particular time and date information to better inform people on social media, Brooks said.

Focusing on information with an abundance of weather information on social media can be overwhelming, Smith said.

Smith urges people to find a reliable source of information to follow. He cited local meteorologists and the NWS as credible sources to stay informed during outbursts of severe weather or tornado activity.

Smith cautioned social media users to use judgement in what they like or share on social media.

“Don’t randomly share or like or retweet things that look like unreliable sources,” Smith said.

The NWS is trying to time stamp information to make it more verifiable.

“Local meteorologists don’t put timestamps or exact locations unless we are 100 percent positive,” Smith said. “There is no excuse anymore to say it struck without warning.”

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