Ahead Of The Storm: OKC Unveils New Tornado Warning System This Spring

Wednesday, March 2nd 2016, 12:29 pm
By: News 9

This spring, Oklahoma City will change how it issues tornado warnings to its residents. It's a move to stop over warning and alert only those potentially in the path of danger.

"In here, it's not a question of if it's going to happen it's a question of when," said Rick Smith, Warning Coordinating Meteorologist.

On a severe weather days, Smith and other meteorologists at the National Weather Service in Norman constantly monitor the radar.

"If the forecasters believe a tornado is either imminent or is already occurring then we can issue a tornado warning," said Smith.

Once that warning is issued, county emergency agencies sound the sirens.

"We want people to take tornado warnings seriously, we want people to act when they hear those sirens" he said.

In Oklahoma City though, that wasn't always happening. There are 181 outdoor sirens within four different counties here, Oklahoma, Canadian, Cleveland and Pottawatomie. So, if a warning was issued in one of those counties, all of the Oklahoma City sirens in that county were activated, even if that particular area wasn't in imminent danger.

"One of the consequences of that is that people began to disregard the sirens, they just didn't take them seriously or feel like there was a threat," said Frank Barnes, Emergency Manager for Oklahoma City.

This year, those alerts will change. Using county lines, highways and interstates, the city was divided into nine sectors - to reduce the number of over warnings.

"If we were to generate a tornado warning, saw something that looked threatening on radar, we'd only include the sections of Oklahoma City that we thought were in an immediate threat," said Doug Speheger, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

The NWS and other emergency management officials collaborated with the City to recommend the policy improvement.

"The warning is still going to be going to more people than probably really need it but that number is going to be greatly reduced," said Smith.

"We don't want people to get hung up on the sectors, we don't want residents to worry about what sector am I in, all they need to know is when I hear the siren, I need to take shelter and get more information," Barnes said.

City officials can still activate sirens across a wider area when necessary.