OKLAHOMA CITY – This year’s weather on the Southern Plains has an odd twist: Oklahoma has yet to record its first tornado, the deepest into the year it’s gone without one since 1962.
Although a drought has dried up moisture needed to fuel storms, state climatologist Gary McManus also attributes the streak to “dumb luck.” Twisters already have hit the Texas Panhandle and western Arkansas, mere miles away.
“Mother Nature doesn’t care where we put the geopolitical lines between Arkansas and Oklahoma or Oklahoma and Texas … it’s something we humans put there … we were very close to not setting that record,” McManus said.
Oklahoma has not had a tornado since Oct. 21, or 189 days. However, the state’s good fortunes are likely to change this week because Wednesday’s forecasts for it and neighboring Kansas are relatively ominous.
But for now, residents are embracing the calm.
“Every day in April or May without a tornado is a wonderful day,” said Rick Smith, the warning coordination meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Norman.
Regardless of how long the record may stand, Smith points to the calendar and says it’s past time to be ready for tornadoes.
“If you know you are in the 30 percent risk area for next Wednesday, what does that mean for me, what should I be doing?” Smith asked. “Is your storm shelter ready? I haven’t cleaned out my garage floor storm shelter yet this year. I’ll be doing that this weekend – not because I think a tornado is going to hit my house but because it’s that time of year.”
Some meteorologists have used the term “outbreak” to describe what is coming next week, but Smith says such language isn’t necessary and that routine preparedness is best.
“If I told you there was going to be one tornado close to you next Wednesday, I would think that the preparations you would take wouldn’t be that much different if I told you there were going to be 15 tornadoes close to you next Wednesday,” he said.
And the term “outbreak” can mean different things to different people, Smith said. Seven years ago Friday, 175 tornadoes hit the South, killing 316 in what was considered a “super-outbreak.” Thirteen twisters hit Arkansas two weeks ago, which could qualify as an outbreak in some circles.
The American Meteorological Society, citing a 1977 study, says 10 or more tornadoes constitute an outbreak. That prompts AccuWeather’s Reed Timmer to defend use of the term.
“You don’t want to say it so soon,” Timmer said from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, which was hit hard in 2011. “Seven to 10 days out, it’s very difficult to point out what you may have. Now that we’re closer” it’s appropriate to call it a potential outbreak.
McManus said the Storm Prediction Center forecast “does perk your years up a little bit.”
While the SPC in Norman posts its forecasts online for all to see, its primary audience includes local forecasters, emergency managers and organizations responsible for a large number of people, such as hospitals and theme parks. The forecast brings no surprise.
“It was bound to happen, that’s usually what happens in late April and early May,” said Mike Honigsberg, the emergency management director for the city of Enid and Garfield County in Oklahoma.
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter