Throughout the day the media and National Weather Service (NWS) were informing people to stay weather aware and to not plan activities for the evening. At no time was there any talk of people needing to leave OKC or leave their homes.
Things rapidly changed as the storms were firing up and the first sight of a tornado accrued near El Reno. At about 6:20 p.m the media started to tell people to “get underground or get out of the way” and to “leave their homes” as reports of Storm spotters being injured. This continued for the next hour and a half as the roads in OKC started to fill up and the interstate became a giant parking lot and Tens of thousands of people took to the roads to escape the approaching storm. The NWS at no time, in any of their warnings, told people to flee or leave their homes.
While I understand the desire to help people by reporting the current events of the storm, but at no time should the media tell people to flee a major metropolitan area unless urged to do so by the NWS or other government agency as it only creates chaos, as was proven on Friday. I-35, I-40, & I-44 were parking lots for hours, even as the storms went from a tornadic to a flooding storm.
Fleeing the storm might have reasonably been done in the “old days” before the movie Twister in rural areas with good north-south roads… But now, even in a rural area it’s a traffic jam of storm chasers. Try it in large metropolitan area, it could result in being in your coffin with four wheels; as pre-tornado wind and rain can close roads vital to ones’ escape and wrecks from panicky drivers can also constrict/close those roadways.
First things first, have a plan! You need to have a plan for tornadoes, wildfires, and any other natural disaster that affects your area. The average tornado moves Southwest to Northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction as we seen Friday. The average forward speed of a tornado is 30 mph, but may vary from stationary to 70 mph. If your home is not safe, like a camper or mobile home, then plan to leave as early as possible. Knowing that, it is imperative to know what you and your family are going to do ahead of time. Leaving home during a storm, just to fight traffic, is never a good idea as you are most vulnerable in a vehicle then in a home!
See some of the chaser video and pictures here. Please take note that these were professionals and bad things happen quick!
Lastly, I want to say thanks to veteran storm chaser Tim Samaras; his son, Paul Samaras; and chase partner Carl Young for their lifelong dedication to the science of tornadoes. Sadly they lost their lives in a tornado that hit near El Reno, Oklahoma on May 31st. Tim was known throughout the chase community as a conscientious and safety-minded chaser, and TWISTEX research has resulted in numerous peer-reviewed publications and conference presentations.
Get a weather radio, and an app for your smart phone.
Here are some good reference websites:
- NWS – http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/safety.html
- Ready.gov – http://www.ready.gov/tornadoes
- OKC.gov – http://www.okc.gov/safety/tornado/
- Red Cross – http://www.redcross.org/images/MEDIA_CustomProductCatalog/m4340177_Tornado.pdf
- Mobile Home Tornado Safety – http://youtu.be/HeOsOxecOaw
- Tornado Project – http://www.tornadoproject.com/safety/safety.htm