Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office, chatted with readers Monday about winter and upcoming severe weather. Read the complete chat transcript here.
Are we expecting a busy storm season?
It's just not possible to say what the storm season will be like at this point. Last year was one of the slowest years for tornadoes nationally, but it certainly wasn't here in OK. We don't worry about trying to predict what the season will be like this far in advance. We know there will be tornadoes. And it only takes one to make it a bad year for you.
Are we expecting any more winter storms after this one?
We're going to warm up this week, but we are looking at another storm system for next weekend. Too soon for a lot of detail, but it does like parts of the state could see some more snow this weekend.
How has the increased amount of storm chasers in the Oklahoma City area during severe weather events affected reporting and handling of the events? Would you say the increased amount is a good or a bad thing?
Having a lot people out on the roads in severe weather is dangerous, no matter who they are. We appreciate the reports, images and video we get from storm observers, but we don't encourage people to get out when storms are in the area. I would rather have no reports than to have someone killed or injured in their vehicle in a storm.
If you don't have a shelter, where would you recommend people to take cover? What if they're on the road at the time of a storm?
The best option if you don't have a shelter is to get inside a sturdy building and put as many walls between you and the tornado as you possibly can. Avoid doors, windows and outside walls. Cover up with pillows, sleeping bags, couch cushions, etc. If you have a helmet, put it on. Pay attention to the weather and don't be in your car when severe storms and tornadoes are going on.
How often we get EF5 tornadoes? Can you predict how strong a storm system might be if it develops a tornado?
EF 5 tornadoes are exceptionally rare, even in Oklahoma. There have been only three in OK in the past 15 years - 5/3/99, 5/24/11 and 5/20/13. Before that, we had gone 17 years without one. We can't predict how intense a tornado might be, but we can see signs on radar and of course visually that give us an idea that one may be capable of doing a lot of damage.
What did we learn from last year's tornadoes?
I think last year's tornadoes validated much of what we've been saying for a long time. People who prepare ahead of time, who have a plan of where they'll go when a warning is issued, who practice the plan with their family, and who pay close attention to weather information on days like May 19, 20 and 31st are less stressed and more ready to deal with a tornado. We saw the importance of social media as many people lost power and couldn't watch TV, but they could still see posts on Twitter and Facebook.
What items would you recommend to have in an emergency weather kit?
There are some basic items everyone should probably have in a weather emergency kit - flashlight and batteries, an AM/FM/Weather radio to keep up with news and information, water and food for your family. This site has some good tips for building a kit: http://www.ready.gov/build-a-kit