Tornadoes for the new Okie

Not being a native Oklahoman put me at a disadvantage last year when tornado season hit. I had grown quite accustomed to the 2-3 week warnings of severe weather, i.e. hurricanes that Florida (my home state) provided. So right off the bat here, I want to say KUDOS to all who choose to live in Oklahoma. We have some balls, metaphorically speaking. You will need information to prepare yourself for tornado season. Most of the information below is from a fabulous Nerdy Girls Meetup at the National Weather Service workshop on Storm Spotting.

http://www.break.com/pictures/ok-tornadoes-21-2445551
http://www.break.com/pictures/ok-tornadoes-21-2445551

When does the season start?

Most tornadoes occur March through August! BUT they can happen outside of those months…those pesky tornadoes don’t like to abide by our schedule.

What is a tornado?

It is defined as a violently rotating column of air in contact with the ground, and extending from a cumulonimbus cloud. The tornado is the wind, NOT the cloud. So, just because you can see the tornado funnel doesn’t mean that that is the tornado in its entirety. The space around it…still a tornado.

How does a tornado form?

Typically, they are the result of a Supercell Thunderstorm. During said supercell thunderstorm, icy air (from the Rockies) and warm air (from the Gulf) do a little tango and create the infamous funnel. Of course, this is a gross oversimplification. Not all supercell thunderstorms create tornadoes, even with the conditions mentioned. However, they can create damaging hail, severe wind, flash flooding and lightning — so don’t take it too lightly. 

Storm

I’m going to take a moment here to explain what’s going on in this illustration. Two things: up-draft and down-draft. In the illustration above, the air movement on the left side of the supercell storm would be where your up-draft (warm air) will be located, this is the inflow of the storm and also where tornadoes are spotted. The down-draft (cool air) is located on the right of this supercell storm [illustration]. The down-draft is the outflow of the storm. This is where all the heavy rain, hail and lightning goes down — tornadoes are rare here but totally possible.

When a tornado is about to form, there will be a change in the direction of the wind and an increase in its speed. This happens in a high altitude, and it helps create a spinning effect in the lower atmosphere. The up-draft helps all this spinning air go from horizontal to vertical. Once the mesocyclone (rotating air) and the rear flank downdraft (rain, hail, etc) start getting closer and closer to the ground. Then a funnel starts to appear at the cloud base and eventually touches ground and forms a visible (or not visible) tornado. 

How to stay safe during a tornado

If you are in a car: DO NOT BE IN A CAR. Get out of your car and find shelter, whether it’s in a building or a ditch. Do not try to outrun the tornado. You will lose.

Destroyed cars

Having a plan is super important when a tornado is in the area. Know where you need to be to stay safe. Debris is one of the most dangerous things, so use a mattress, sleeping bags, thick blankets, etc to shield you. Finding shelter and being aware of the storm’s location are about all you can do to keep yourself out of harms way. You should have a least 3 ways of getting severe weather alerts. Here are some suggestions: NOAA programmable weather radio $29 at Walmart, free app from your favorite weather news channel, television, crank radio (if you have no power).

Helpful websites for more info: 
www.mesonet.org (mesonet has an app)
www.spc.noaa.gov (mobile.weather.gov is their mobile site).

I would also recommend you guys watch this video:
Last year’s tornado in El Reno