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Tornado Safety
City of Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City has had more tornado strikes than any other city in the United States.

The Oklahoma City Police Emergency Management Office provides the following information to help you and your family prepare for tornado season. Listed are some of the most frequently asked questions about tornadoes.

The basic facts

What is a tornado?

A tornado is a violent windstorm characterized by a twisting, funnel shaped cloud. It is produced by a thunderstorm and formed when cool air overrides a layer of warm air, forcing the warm air to rise rapidly.

The City's new network of emergency sirens reach farther than the system they replaced. But they aren't a substitute for radio and television updates.

Don't count on a siren to wake you when you're asleep, or to get your attention above the background noise of your home or car.

If the weather looks threatening, turn on a TV or radio.

What is the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning?

The National Weather Service issues a tornado watch when tornadoes are possible in your area. Be alert for approaching storms. This is a good time to remind family members where the safest places within your home are located. Listen to the radio or television for further developments.

A tornado warning is issued when a tornado has been sighted or indicated by weather radar. If a tornado warning is issued and the sky becomes threatening, move to your designated place of safety. Turn on a battery-operated radio and wait for further instructions.

When is tornado season?

Tornado season is generally March through August, although tornadoes can occur at any time of the year.

Is there a time of day when tornadoes usually happen?

Yes, tornadoes tend to occur in the afternoons and evenings. More than 80 per cent of all tornadoes strike between noon and midnight.

What are some tornado danger signs?

Dark, often greenish sky
Wall cloud
Large hail
Loud roar, similar to a freight train

Are there other signs I should look for?

Some tornadoes appear as a visible funnel extending only partially to the ground. Look for signs of debris below the visible funnel. Before a tornado hits, the wind may die down and the air may become very still. An approaching cloud of debris can mark the location of a tornado even if a funnel is not visible. Tornadoes generally occur near the trailing edge of a thunderstorm. It is not uncommon to see clear, sunlit skies behind a tornado.

Things to do now

If you have a storm shelter, register its location with the City.

Registering your shelter's location will let rescue workers know you have a shelter and where to find it if a disaster covers it with debris. Call the Action Center at 405 297-2535 to register your shelter.

Have regular tornado drills with your family.

Designate an area in your home as a shelter, and regularly practice having your family go there as if there were a tornado. Make sure your family knows the difference between a "tornado watch" and a "tornado warning."

Have disaster supplies on hand.

Flashlight and extra batteries (do not use candles or open flame devices!)
Portable, battery operated radio and extra batteries
First aid kit and manual
Emergency food and water
Non-electric can opener
Essential medicines
Cash and credit cards
Sturdy shoes
A set of spare keys to vehicles
Personal identification
Camera with several rolls of film (for documenting your damage)

Develop an emergency communications plan.

Have a plan for getting back together in case family members are separated from one another during a tornado. Ask an out-of-state relative or friend to act as the family contact. After a disaster, it's often easier to call long distance. Make sure everyone in the family knows the name, address and phone number of the contact person.

When it's on the way

When a tornado is coming, you have a short amount of time to make life or death decisions. Advance planning and quick response are the keys to surviving.

If you are at home:

Go to the basement, storm cellar, or the lowest level of the building. If there is no basement, go to an inner hallway or a small inner room without windows, such as a bathroom or closet. Get away from windows. Go to the center of the room. Stay away from corners because they tend to attract debris. Get under a piece of sturdy furniture such as a workbench or heavy table and hold on to it. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If you are at work or school:

Go to the basement or to an inside hallway at the lowest level. Avoid places with wide-span roofs such as auditoriums, cafeterias, large hallways, or shopping malls. Get under a piece of furniture such as a heavy table or desk and hold on to it. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If you are outdoors:

If possible, go inside a building.

If shelter is not available or there is no time to go indoors, lie in a ditch or low-lying area or crouch near a strong building. Be aware of the potential for flooding. Use your arms to protect your head and neck.

If you are in a car:

Get out of the car immediately and take shelter in a nearby building. Never try to outdrive a tornado. Tornadoes can change direction quickly and can lift up a car or truck and toss it through the air.

If there is no time to get indoors, get out of the car and lie in a ditch or low lying area away from the vehicle. Be aware of the potential for flooding. Do not take cover under a bridge!

What should I do if I live in a mobile home?

Mobile homes are particularly vulnerable. A mobile home can overturn very easily even if precautions have been taken to tie the unit down. When a tornado warning is issued, take shelter in a building with a strong foundation. If shelter is not available, lie in a ditch or low-lying area a safe distance away from the unit.

After it's passed

Help injured or trapped persons. Give first aid when appropriate. DonČt try to move the seriously injured unless they are in immediate danger of further injury. Call for help.

Help your neighbors who may require special assistance, infants, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

Turn on a radio or television to get the latest emergency information.

Stay out of damaged buildings. Return home only when authorities say it is safe.

Use the telephone only for emergency calls.

Clean up spilled medicines, bleaches or gasoline or other flammable liquids as soon as possible. Leave the building if you smell gas or chemical fumes.

Take pictures of the damage, both to the house and its contents, for insurance purposes.