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). Here’s a brief overview from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration: 

  • 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.