NORMAN — In records dating to 1950, there have been 16 confirmed tornadoes in January in Oklahoma, 24 in December and 50 or more in each of the other months.
So, at the National Weather Service's Norman Forecast Office, preparations are for “when” severe weather occurs, not “if.”
However, there are certain times of the year the “when” is a little more likely, and we're currently in it: Of the tornadoes recorded in Oklahoma since 1950, 66 percent have occurred from March to May.
That doesn't mean Oklahomans should live in fear of severe weather, said Mike Foster, the meteorologist in charge with the National Weather Service in Norman. Instead, he said: Respect severe weather.
The Rocky Mountains funnel cold, dry air from Canada into this state. That air mixes with warm, moist air traveling north from the Gulf of Mexico. If the conditions mix with a
“Where we live, from San Antonio (north) along the I-35 corridor ... up to Minneapolis, and all along that corridor in there, population just gets larger and larger and spreads out more and more and the frequency of the severe weather events is not changing,” Foster said. “The targets are just growing and growing and growing. And it's just a matter of when something's going to hit.”
Then the “when” philosophy in Foster comes out.
“It's not ‘if,'” Foster said. “Every place is going to get hit by something along there, at some point in time. So it's a matter of ‘when.'”
Instead of fearing, he favors respecting tornadoes by planning.
Foster said the National Weather Service prepares in a variety of ways. Meteorologists travel to many communities to meet and work with local emergency managers and provide storm spotters training. Several of those officials also make visits to the National Weather Center for training.
In the office, meteorologists practice emergency procedures and severe weather procedures. Plus, they use a weather event simulator to perfect their detection and warning skills with radars and other meteorological sensor systems such as the Oklahoma Mesonet and satellites.
“There's a favorable environment around this part of the country for big storms and damaging storms and they're going to continue and they're going to hit things,” Foster said.