Twister activity numbers offer valuable insight in Oklahoma

by Bryan Painter Published: April 25, 2010
It’s important to understand numbers but not get lost in them.

From 1950 to 2009, Caddo County, in the western half of Oklahoma, had 100 tornadoes. That’s the most confirmed tornadoes of any of the state’s 77 counties in that time span, according to the National Weather Service.

Second was Oklahoma County, with 99 confirmed tornadoes.

One difference is that Caddo County has an estimated population of 29,238 while Oklahoma County has an estimated population of 699,400, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2006-2008 American Community Survey.

But Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the weather’s service Norman Forecast Office, points out that storms don’t see lines on a map, boundaries or buildings.

"A severe thunderstorm producing hail, wind or a tornado is the same storm whether it hits a city or moves through open rural areas,” he said. "We make warning decisions based on the storm, where it’s going and what it’s expected to do in order to give people, wherever they live, time to do what they need to do to be safe.”

The counties
David Barnes is the Oklahoma County emergency management director, and Larry McDuffey is the Caddo County emergency director.

Is either surprised by the numbers?

"Based on our history and experiences, I am not necessarily surprised,” Barnes said.

"However, I do have great concern because of the inherent risks associated with tornadic activity within Oklahoma County. Life safety is always the first priority and since Oklahoma County has the greatest population density in the state, the probability of our citizens being negatively impacted by tornadic activity is tremendous.”

McDuffey wasn’t shocked either.

"Not at all,” said McDuffey, who has been the emergency manager in Caddo County for about five years. "I have lived here all my life and it seems tornadoes will come in bunches at a time. You never know when it’s going to be active. So we pay attention to the National Weather Service and the information they are providing.”

And Barnes brought up points that are important regardless of where someone lives. He said it is imperative that people identify any possible risk to them, their families or anyone for whom they have responsibility, and prepare for those situations.

"We all have to take personal responsibility to plan and prepare for events,” he said, "and anyone who has lived in Oklahoma for any length of time should already be aware of the potential for significant severe weather, including tornadoes, strong winds, hail, lightning and heavy rainfall, particularly this time of year.

by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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Top 15 list of tornadoes per county (1950-2009)

Caddo: 100

Oklahoma: 99

Kay: 90

Canadian: 83

Osage: 76

Lincoln: 74

Pittsburg: 71

Garfield: 70

Tulsa: 70

Ellis: 68

Kiowa: 67

Jackson: 64

Kingfisher: 64

Grady: 63

Texas: 63

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