A stormy weather pattern is expected to brew up some severe activity in Oklahoma today, with gusty winds, hail and possible tornadoes prompting local emergency managers to remind residents to be weather aware.
Shawnee/Pottawatomie County Emergency Management Director Don Lynch, who said it looks like there could be two rounds of severe weather today, encourages families to think about tornado preparedness and where they could take shelter at home, at work, or other places they may travel.
Lynch said it appears the activity won’t impact this area until after 2 p.m., but he said things can quickly change.
“It looks like we’ll have an afternoon of super cells,” Lynch said, “but it’s too early to tell exactly where.”
The threat of tornadoes in this area is expected by late afternoon or evening, with the storms changing over to heavy rain and small hail, he said.
Lynch said today is a day to “keep an eye to the sky.”
National Weather Service Forecaster Forrest Mitchell said the stormy weather, with afternoon highs near 73 degrees, will precede a “very strong cold front” expected this evening.
“There will be a line of storms ahead of the front — a squall line,” Mitchell said, adding they’ll include strong gusts of wind, heavy rain and hail up to one-inch or larger in diameter.
The good news in all of this is that the storms could be a good rainmaker, with the forecaster indicating up to 1.5 inches is possible in many areas.
Mitchell agreed today is a day to be “weather aware” and keep in tune with weather activity through weather radios, local TV, radio or websites.
The storms will bring in much colder air, Mitchell said, and by Wednesday morning, temperatures will be around 40 degrees showers and a high of only about 50 degrees.
While Lynch said the beginning of storm season is good time to practice family drills and preparedness plans at home, that’s an ongoing process for places like St. Anthony Shawnee Hospital. The facility has a standard operating procedure in place to care for patients in the event of severe weather.
Marketing Director Carla Tollett said when severe weather threatens this area, they enact protocols including the safety officer keeping administration informed and on site until the weather threat is over.
As conditions progress, decisions can be made when and if any internal movement of patients is needed, Tollett said, and there’s also protocols in place for the emergency room patients.
The city of Shawnee has public storm shelters in the basement of city hall, the basement of Shawnee Fire Station No. 3 on MacArthur Street and at a cellar in Boy Scout Park, he said.
Page 2 of 3 - Because both space and parking at those locations is limited, the city is currently working with building owners to utilize basements in their facilities as alternate public shelters. Lynch said the city will announce those locations as soon as the facilities are ready.
“State law provides liability protection for people who offer their shelters for use by the public,” Lynch said. “Therefore, we are strongly encouraging people throughout Pottawatomie County who have shelters to be good neighbors and offer their shelters to others where possible."
In efforts to promote preparedness, emergency officials provide these tips:
Home tornado plan
Pick a place where family members can gather if a tornado is approaching, such as a basement, a center hallway, bathroom or closet on the lowest level of a home. That place should be kept uncluttered and be easily accessible in an emergency. It’s also a good idea to have a flashlight, radio and other gear ready for use in that shelter.
“The time to identify your shelter is before you need it,” he said. “When a warning is issued, you need to seek shelter immediately, not try to determine where your shelter will be or try to drive somewhere to take shelter.”
To be prepared for any scenario, families should practice tornado drills much like they would a fire drill, Lynch said, and those who live in mobile homes should find a neighbor with a storm shelter well before a storm becomes severe. Those living in upstairs apartments also should become acquainted with neighbors downstairs and be prepared to take shelter in the lower unit.
Storm watches, warnings
Lynch said knowing the difference between watches and warnings can help save lives. A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for the development of severe weather that may produce a tornado. Residents should keep a “watch” on the weather for rapidly changing conditions. A Tornado Warning means that a tornado has actually been sighted or is indicated by radar. Lynch said persons in the path of the storm should take immediate precautions to protect their safety.
Lynch recommends having multiple means of receiving severe weather warnings. Local television and radio station alerts, a NOAA all-hazards (weather) radio, e-mail, text, and telephone alerting systems are all good methods of receiving the warning, he said.
The city of Shawnee maintains a network of community warning sirens, but residents shouldn’t rely solely on them.
“Sirens weren’t designed to alert people who are in their homes,” Lynch said. “They’re meant to warn people outside of possible danger.”
Page 3 of 3 - “Shawnee’s sirens are sounded during severe weather when the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for a tornadic storm that is approaching or in Shawnee, or when trained emergency management spotters sight a funnel cloud, persistently rotating wall cloud, or tornado in or approaching the city limits,” he said. “If the sirens go off during a thunderstorm, it means take your immediate safety precautions.”
To ensure the storm sirens are in good working order, the sirens in Shawnee are audibly tested at Noon on Wednesdays when the sky is clear and weather permits.
American Red Cross Tornado app
The American Red Cross encourages the public to download its new free Tornado App.
The free app gives iPhone, iPad and Android smart phone and tablet users instant access to local and real-time information so they know what to do before, during and after tornado.
The app includes a high-pitched siren and “tornado warning” alert that signals people when a NOAA tornado warning has been issued in their area – even if the app is closed. An “all clear” alert lets users know when a tornado warning has expired or has been cancelled.