Weather experts warn it’s ‘when,’ not ‘if’ tornadoes strike

By Bryan Painter, Staff Writer Published: March 7, 2009
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NORMAN — Mike Foster believes in when, not if.

He also favors respect over fear.

Foster is the meteorologist in charge with the National Weather Service's Norman Forecast Office.


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 southern-dipping jet stream providing upward vertical motion, tornadoes are possible.

"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. "Where we live, from San Antonio along the I-35 corridor through the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex through Oklahoma City through Wichita, Kansas City 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, we don't think, one way or another.

"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, every place is going to get hit by something along there, at some point in time," Foster said, "so it's a matter of when."

However instead of fearing, he favors respecting tornadoes by planning.

How they prepare

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 to provide training for storm spotters. Several of those same officials also make visits to the National Weather Center for training and to familiarize themselves with the information needed during severe weather.
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