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Preparing for Emergencies: Oklahoma Tornado Season

In Oklahoma, tornado season is always “just around the corner.” Whether you’re a newbie or you’ve lived in Oklahoma your entire life, one thing is for sure — storm season here is no joke.

Oklahoma is located in the heart of Tornado Alley, so twisters and other severe weather can be common. Although most tornadoes hit the state in the months of April and May, they can occur anytime during the year if the conditions are right.

Tornadoes are destructive storms that can destroy buildings, toss cars around and create deadly flying debris. Violently rotating columns of air that extend from a thunderstorm to the ground, tornadoes can boast wind speeds of more than 200 miles per hour and can happen anywhere.

So, with spring and summer on the way, we’ve teamed up with Ready.gov to give you some emergency preparedness tips for tornado weather.

Being prepared for storms

Although storm forecasting has come a long way, tornadoes can still occur with little warning. Being prepared before the storm is vital to being able to survive a violent twister.

Before the sirens go off, you should know your area’s tornado risk. Sign up for an Emergency Alert System or a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) weather radio to receive emergency alerts when they happen.

While many people joke about meteorologists, they are the first line in predicting when conditions might be right for a tornado, so be sure you have a working radio that can pick up the weather forecast if power goes out in your home or your television satellite dish stops working.

Even before the storm season, practice going into a safe place in your home, whether that is a tornado shelter or a small, interior, windowless room on the lowest level of the home.

Create a plan for communication in case the family is separated, like identifying a person out of state who everyone is instructed to call in case of storm emergencies.

Also, know the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning. According to NOAA, a tornado watch means the conditions are right for the formation of a twister. A tornado warning means a tornado has been sighted with an imminent threat to life and property. If a warning is issued, take action immediately and find your safe shelter.

Every school should have a tornado plan. Ensure that your child’s school has a tornado plan in place and know how to contact the school when emergencies happen.

Educate the members of your family on how to turn off utilities such as gas and electricity. If you smell gas after a tornado strikes, turn off the valve and leave the area immediately.

What you should keep in a storm shelter

If you have an in-ground or in-home storm shelter, be sure it’s fully stocked in case you must spend hours (or sometimes days) in it after a tornado hits.

Fresh water (one gallon per person, per day, to last three days), snacks, phone chargers, extra blankets, flashlights, batteries and an NOAA radio are some necessities for your storm shelter.

This is important: if you have a shelter, be sure you’ve registered its location with your municipality, so they know where to look in case the shelter is covered in debris. Keep games and books in the shelter to help distract children and keep a first-aid kit handy in case of injuries or scrapes.

It’s also a good idea to keep the following items in a portable container that can be carried to your shelter or safe location.

  • A small safe where you store important documents such as birth certificates, passports, ownership certificates, insurance policies, social security cards and more.
  • Bottled water.
  • Food. Non-perishable foods such as tuna and crackers, granola bars and nuts are good choices, but also include formula and baby food if there is an infant in the home.
  • Battery powered radio, more flashlights and batteries.
  • First-aid kit.
  • Prescription medications.
  • Games and books for kids.
  • Extra clothes, closed-toed shoes, gloves.

What to do if you are under a tornado warning

If a tornado warning has been issued, get to a sturdy building or shelter immediately, such as a safe room, basement or windowless indoor room. Stay away from windows and doors and use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If you are on the road, do not seek shelter under an overpass or bridge. Find a building close by or, in dire situations, lie in a low, flat location. Ditches can flood during a storm, so do not seek shelter in a drainage ditch or tunnel.

Flying debris causes the most injury or death in tornadoes, so use a mattress, bike helmet or even pots and pans to protect your head.

Whatever you do, don’t panic. Calmly find your safe location, protect your head and neck and keep your weather radio close by.

What to do after a tornado strikes

If your neighborhood was hit by a tornado, additional precautions are needed. Many suffer injuries from exposed debris, nails, gas leaks and more after a twister has passed through.

Keep listening to your weather radio and local authorities for updated information. If you are trapped in a home or shelter, keep your mouth covered with a wet cloth to avoid breathing in dust and impurities and bang on a pipe or wall to get attention to your location.

Because phone systems are usually down after a tornado, use your phone only for emergencies. Text messaging and social media can be used to communicate with your friends and family but be prepared for the possibility that you won’t have service.

Do not enter damaged buildings until they have been deemed safe by authorities and watch out for downed power lines or broken gas lines. Wear thick-soled, closed-toe shoes, long pants and gloves if you are in and around debris following a storm.

Remember, preparation comes first

Everyone living or working in tornado-prone areas should have a weather radio inside their home or place of work, especially if you live in an area that does not have storm warning sirens. All-weather radios broadcast National Weather Service warnings and information 24 hours a day, and post-event information for all types of hazards, both natural and technological.

NOAA Weather Radios are available at electronics stores and online, and range in cost from $25 to $100 or more. It’s a sound investment to keep prepared for any kind of severe weather, not just tornadoes.

As an Oklahoman, it is wise to be prepared for seasonal storms and emergency situations that can happen at a moment’s notice. This is part two of an INTEGRIS blog series on how to prepare for emergency situations.  Stay tuned for another blog coming soon with tips on staying safe during the summer.

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