Electronic Highway Signs In Oklahoma May Be Used As Tornado Warnings

Sunday, May 29th 2011, 12:35 am
By: News 9

Emily Baucum, News On 6

TULSA, Oklahoma -- When the tornado hit Joplin, it was late on Sunday afternoon, and many families were attending church events, high school graduations or simply running errands.

That's why so many people died in their cars.

News On 6 viewers asked if the new electronic highway signs in Oklahoma could be used to alert drivers of tornadoes on the ground.

On Tuesday, May 24, one of the many tornadoes to hit central Oklahoma ripped apart a semi-truck in a matter of seconds, showing there's nowhere to hide if you drive into a tornado's path. The Oklahoma Highway Patrol (OHP) says it makes sense to use highway signs as part of the storm warning system.

There are seven LED signs above Tulsa area highways, not to mention countless electronic message boards around construction sites. The big LED signs are already used to notify the public of emergencies like AMBER Alerts.

But they're not used to display tornado watches or warnings. Here's why: Those seven signs are a joint effort between The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) and OHP. The two agencies simply have not had the conversation about using the signs to tell drivers to get off the road.

Drivers say the decision should be an easy one.

"I remember the tornado back when it hit the truck stop in Catoosa," said driver Johnny Lane. "And most of the injuries were people who were in vehicles. I think there were eleven of them."

OHP and ODOT say they will research the benefits of posting severe weather warnings on those signs, but they didn't give a timeline.