Oklahoma tornado controversy continues; Summery 80s to 90F in sight?

Getting It Right

There are still reverberations in the wake of the deadly Oklahoma tornado onslaught… and the conflicting advice about whether to stay put or try and outrun a 2.6 mile wide tornado.

Local and national emergency preparedness officials are scrambling to clarify tornado safety rules after one Oklahoma TV meteorologists on-air advice suggesting people take to the road drive away from the advancing EF-5 twister.

In this Updraft we clarify again the state of the science safety rules for tornadoes, and look ahead to a much brighter…and warmer forecast in the next week.

A summery day with high in the 80s? An outside shot at 90F?

Bring it.

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“What we’ve got here is (a) failure to communicate.” -Captain – Cool Hand Luke

Tornado PR Scramble: How did this happen?

I’ve never seen anything quite like this in my 30 years of covering severe weather in the USA.

Emergency managers at all levels of government are scrambling this week to clarify tornado safety rules.

I don’t want to be too critical of any TV met who is giving second by second coverage of a live tornado emergency. Just being on the air giving valuable info saved lives…countless lives in Oklahoma the past few weeks.

But more than one TV meteorologist gave viewers advice to leave home and drive away from tornadoes in the past month. From what we learned in the aftermath from those who survived above ground in the path of the Moore EF-5 tornado, and from standing “state of the science” tornado safety rules…that’s bad advice.

To be fair…there may be plenty of responsibility to go around here. The NWS’ new “enhanced language” in the new storm based warnings designed to get people’s attention after Joplin did just that. When you tell people…unequivocally “you will not survive above ground” and they have no basement or below ground storm cellar, what are they supposed to do?

What is happening now is a scramble to communicate the best tornado safety information in a consistent way so the public understands what to do when a tornado approaches.

To be clear about the recent Oklahoma tornadoes, the meteorology worked. Maybe better than ever.

-There were days of lead time on a possible tornado threat from SPC and broadcast meteorologists.

-Tornado Watches were posted hours in advance, giving people in the storm’s path plenty of time to adjust daily activities in preparation for the storms.

-Tornado Warnings were issued giving as much as 15 to 30 minutes lead time in most cases. If you were paying attention and adjusting your daily activity in response to SPC outlooks and NWS Tornado Watches you had plenty of time to act and seek safe shelter.

-News stations and broadcast meteorologists were on the air live well in advance of the tornadoes…and with continuous live coverage as the tornadoes moved in. Unless you were hiding in a cave…there was absolutely no excuse for you to not know that tornadoes were heading your way in Oklahoma in these outbreaks.

I’ll reiterate…the meteorology worked. But some of the “messaging” may have been flawed.


Image: Jeff Snyder via Norman, OK NWS

State of the science on tornado safety:

So what’s your #1 defense against tornadoes?

“Situational Awareness”

Know that you’re under a risk for severe weather days in advance.

Know that a tornado watch is issued for your location hours in advance, and adjust your daily activities accordingly.

Are you the “boss” in the office? Consider letting your employees go home early and pick up kids or be home safely once a tornado watch is issued.

Hennepin County sent out this good reminder Wednesday making the excellent point that tornado preparedness begins hours…even days in advance.

Accept the facts.

To develop a tornado sense mindset also requires a reality check. Know this:

• Adequate warning is there for those who listen. In almost every case of a killer tornado, there were days of indications, hours of alert time, and many minutes of warning.

• Outdoor warning sirens are not ‘always going off.’ Monthly tests plus the annual average of just over one siren activation for storms in Hennepin County, adds up only 27 minutes a year.

• Finally, there is not a single spot in Minnesota where a tornado cannot hit. Weather that spawns tornadoes rises miles into the sky and releases huge amounts of energy. These forces are far too big to be directed by a river valley, hilly terrain, hot pavement or tall skyscrapers. Thunderstorms produce many deadly hazards in addition to tornadoes (lightning, hail, extreme winds, flooding).

If you have a healthy tornado sense mindset, you and your loved ones will be well-prepared to weather any storm.

Here’s the best advice on what to do as a tornado approaches from NWS,


You best defense against getting caught in a car in a tornado? Be home…or in a safer place than on the road by planning in advance. But if you are in a situation that essentially becomes “making the best of potentially bad choices” Here’s what NWS has to say.


Forecast: Signs of Summer?

We’re all way past over and done with the “Soggy Spring of ’13” these days.

I’m cautious not to oversell here, but I do see some very positive signs for those who are looking…no yearning for warmer, sunnier days.

The weather pattern looks more “progressive” in the next 2 weeks. That should mean more sunny days…and temps that may actually feel like…summer by next week.

Thursday: AM clouds & a stray shower…some PM sunny peeks? High 66.

Friday: Bright & sunny. High 72.

Saturday: Sunny start, PM clouds with showers & a T-Storm by evening & overnight. High 74.

Sunday: AM shower chance. Brighter PM. High 74.

(Best window for outdoor Graduation parties Saturday AM into early PM…and Sunday PM/evening.)

There are signs that we may see more sun…and highs approaching 80 next week.

The Euro model is more optimistic about warmth…and pushes temps into the 80s…and possibly near 90 by late next week/weekend.

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Hang in there!

Paul Huttner

  • Randy in Champliln


    I couldn’t agree more that our best line of defense is situational awareness. But how do we accomplish this?

    Most of this post may fall on deaf ears when it comes to the 40 to 60+ year old’s because they may not want to use the internet and instead relay on local forecasters.

    #1…it all starts with education starting at the JR High level. I think somewhere whether it’s a science class, current event’s class, a social studies class or some other way.

    #2…They have to know what the Storm Prediction Center is and what their mission is and how to access the day one through day eight convective outlooks.

    #3…When reading the Storm Prediction Center’s discussion, they don’t have to understand the technical points, but they have to be able to gleam the important phrases such as, and I paraphrase…” the biggest threat is large hail and damaging winds, but a few tornadoes are possible and some may be strong and long tracked”

    #4 Learn how to access the local National Weather Service’s web site and find their Area Forecast Discussion, again skip the technical stuff and get down to the nitty gritty.

    #5 On the day of the forecast event, make sure they have access to the NWS tweets or whatever mode that may take in the future. As the National Weather Service in Normal OK sent out a tweet, that they would not want to be on the roads in OKC after 4pm.

    This brings me back to June 17th 2010. The evening before that I watched most of the local news channels weather segments and listened to some radio forecast’s. I heard things like the SPC has us in a moderate risk without any explanation.

    I also heard things like stay sky aware, keep a eye on the sky and a ear to…or some others statements similar.

    What we should have heard that evening would go something like this..”.If a tornado watch is issued for your area pay close attention and be near a place of safety as once storms do fire off it may be to late”

    Thankfully we don’t see very many set ups like what we saw that day here in Minnesota.

    The lesson behind this post, is that we all have to be accountable for our own safety when it comes to severe weather, but to be able to effectively do that we have to know where to find the proper information.

  • paul st.pierre

    read with great interest your expert view on avoiding tornado damage. RULE ONE, don’t be there RULE TWO run. P)lease hire one more reporter and tell us WHERE to run and WHEN. .

  • Ralph in Stillwater

    Paul, good updraft. But, you talked about approaching warm weather next week and then your graphic included the temperatures in Celsius. Really?

  • Tyler

    Unless you were hiding in a cave…there was absolutely no excuse for you to not know that tornadoes were heading your way in Oklahoma in these outbreaks.

    Maybe that’s the point – tornado warning? Hide in a cave!