During our enjoyably average – at least when it comes to our weather! – year, we experience clear skies most of the time. In fact, 65 percent of our days are sunny! And, we have an annual average temperature of 61 degrees.
Elevation: 1,291 feet above sea level
Average Temperatures: January, 39.5° F; July, 83° F; annual average, 61° F
Average Annual Precipitation: 36.5 inches of rain; 7.6 inches of snow
Severe Weather in Oklahoma
Oklahoma’s location east of the Rocky Mountains and north of the Gulf of Mexico mean that we are sometimes a hot spot for some interesting weather. Cold dry air from the Rocky Mountains and Canada have the potential to gather over our state with warm, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico, sometimes resulting in thunderstorms or even more severe weather including tornadoes.
And like other states that have the potential for severe weather, here in Oklahoma, we are pretty well prepared for what Mother Nature might throw our way. Hundreds of tornado sirens are operated across Greater Oklahoma City. These sirens are utilized when a tornado warning exists in our area.
What’s a tornado warning? Here, our meteorologists issue watches and warnings (both for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes).
- A severe thunderstorm watch means that the potential exists for the development of thunderstorms which may produce large hail or damaging winds. When a watch is issued, you should go about your normal activities, but keep an eye to the sky and an ear to the National Weather Service's weather radio or local radio and television stations for further updates and possible warnings.
- A severe thunderstorm warning means that a severe thunderstorm is occurring or is imminent based on radar information. You should move indoors to a place of safety.
- A tornado watch, like a severe thunderstorm watch, means that conditions are favorable for severe thunderstorms to form, but it also means that a few storms may be capable of producing a tornado.
- A PDS tornado watch is issued when the National Weather Service deems a storm to be a “particularly dangerous situation” with the potential for multiple strong or violent tornadoes. Of the tornado watches issued across the U.S. from 1996-2005, only 7 percent were classified as PDS tornado watches.
- A tornado warning is the ultimate in severe warnings. It means that a tornado is either occurring or imminent based on radar. You should take cover immediately.
Oklahoma City is also home to some of the nation’s best and more renowned meteorologists who help us stay aware and informed when the time comes. And just 30 miles south of Oklahoma City in Norman, Okla., is the NOAA National Weather Service. So not only do we have the best of the best when it comes to meteorologists, but we also have access to the best and most technologically-advanced equipment to predict and detect potential severe weather.
Improvements in technology and updated warning systems have led to increased warning times for dangerous storms, helping to save uncounted lives. For example, when an EF-5 tornado struck Moore, Okla., on May 20, 2013, residents had 16 minutes to get to safety before the tornado struck thanks to local news and the activations of the tornado sirens.
Homes and Tornadoes
Much like states along the east coast are prepared for potential hurricanes, here in Oklahoma, we do our best to be prepared for tornadoes, and that includes our homes. Many homes in Greater Oklahoma City have tornado shelters or safe rooms built into the house. Shelters or safe rooms are even more common in recently established neighborhoods. And while not all builders include a shelter in the house, they often take the steps to make it very easy for one to be added by the homeowner.
What about basements? The hard clay soil in Oklahoma means that most homes in the region do not have basements. However, many of the homes in historic neighborhoods do. And basements are excellent places to take cover during a tornado.
No matter the age of your home, adding a tornado shelter (whether inside your house or on your property) is a good way to be prepared for potential severe weather and tornadoes. There are often funding opportunities available to help residents pay for the installation of tornado shelters and safe rooms.
For more information about tornado safety and preparation, visit the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management’s site.