Should a "Watch" or "Warning" be issued, it is important to understand the meaning and what action(s) should be taken. A Severe Thunderstorm Watch or Tornado Watch indicates conditions for the development of such an event are present. Personal Severe Weather Plans should be initiated at this point, especially for those who live in mobile homes or other forms of manufactured housing. This is also when efforts to begin closely monitoring local weather should begin. Emphasis is placed on local weather due to the fact that if viewing a cable or satellite television station from outside your local area, typically no pertinent weather information is available, especially on short notice.
Should a Severe Thunderstorm Warning or Tornado Warning be issued, the event is occurring and immediate precautions should be taken.
The City of Collinsville utilizes Outdoor Warning Devices located throughout the more densely populated portions of the community. As the name implies, these devices are specifically designed to provide warning for residents and visitors who may be outdoors when tornadic activity approaches. The sounding of the Outdoor Warning Devices is a signal to take immediate shelter in a storm shelter, Safe Room, or other location specifically designed to withstand severe weather. If no such area is available, seek shelter in a small interior room or closet on the lowest possible level, away from exterior openings such as doors or windows. Heavy clothing or bedding materials should be utilized for additional protection from flying debris, which is typically the greatest hazard during a tornadic event.
Residents who have a personal storm shelter or Safe Room are encouraged to have a "partner" identified who will agree to establish contact with them following a severe weather event. Should this contact not be made, local authorities should be contacted to initiate a search of the storm shelter to prevent someone from inadvertently being trapped. The City of Collinsville has implemented a Storm Shelter Registration program which allows residents to register the location of their shelter in the unlikely event they should become trapped due to debris from a severe weather event. Registration is available by calling the City Of Collinsville 918-371-1010 ext 2020. The Collinsville Library is a "Safe Zone" for Collinsville residents in an emergency event.
Recommendations for personal severe weather preparedness focus on two main areas, planning and awareness.
Planning involves an assessment of the potential risks or hazards involved, such as type of structural construction, presence of a personal shelter, travel distance/time to a shelter or substantial structure, methods of early warning, etc. All factors should be evaluated and a plan developed to provide adequate early warning and travel time (if needed) to reach shelter. Basic safety items such as a flashlight, battery-powered radio or television, food or snacks, drinking water, needed medications, address book or contact information, etc. should be identified and assembled in advance, and taken should evacuation be necessary.
Awareness is simply keeping an "eye on the sky" for the possibility of approaching severe weather. One excellent tool are the low-cost Programmable Weather Alert Radios* available from a variety of general retail sources. These devices incorporate back-up battery power and are programmable to receive watches or warnings for specific areas, thus helping eliminate false alarms or other distractions. Severe weather can build rapidly in Oklahoma, and local broadcast media (television and/or radio) should be monitored on a regular basis, particularly in the spring and fall severe weather seasons.
Awareness is also particularly important while traveling in an automobile. Should unavoidable tornadic activity approach while you are in a vehicle, immediately abandon the vehicle and seek shelter in a substantial structure. If no structures are available, seek shelter in a low-lying ditch or culvert, while maintaining awareness of potential flash-flooding which often accompanies a severe weather event. Overpasses or bridges should never be used for shelter from a tornado.
An elevated position, even if under a significant concrete structure such as a bridge or overpass, increases the risk of injury from flying debris and other wind-related hazards. Traffic congestion often created by this practice additionally impedes access for emergency response vehicles and creates an enormous traffic hazard, often during times of limited visibility.
May 3, 1999, was a significant date in the weather history of Oklahoma, and the nation. According to information available from several sources, the highest wind speed ever recorded on the face of the earth, 318 mph, was recorded in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. The same storm system produced over 85 tornadoes in multiple states over a twenty-four hour period, including an F-5 tornado which produced millions of dollars in damage in Moore, Oklahoma.
It should be noted that F-5 tornados are estimated to be less than 5% of all tornadic activity. The vast majority of tornadic activity in Oklahoma is rated between F-2 and F-3, which means a normal wood-frame, masonry veneer building, which includes a large number of single-family residences, can survive a tornadic event if properly constructed. Certainly, damage is to be expected if a "direct hit" is sustained, but the general safety rules presented earlier in this document have proven effective in reducing injury and loss of life.