STILLWATER — As spring settles in and summer waits anxiously in the wings, the threat for severe weather increases across Oklahoma. Knowing which weather terms mean what boosts your chances of safely riding out any storm.
"Severe weather watches and warnings should never be ignored," said Al Sutherland, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension assistant specialist and meteorologist for the Oklahoma Mesonet, a network of 120 environmental monitoring stations across the state. "Those alerts tell you how strong a storm is and gives you an idea how much time you have to prepare."
It is no secret tornadoes, fierce thunderstorms and lightening, floods and other severe weather could be life threatening. According to www.ready.gov preliminary data for 2012 reflects more than 450 weather related deaths and close to 2,600 injuries.
For the record, a hazardous weather outlook forecasts whether or not there will be severe weather, including severe thunderstorms and tornadoes, over a seven-day span. On the other hand, severe thunderstorm and tornado watches are issued when current conditions are favorable for thunderstorms or tornadoes, along with hail and damaging winds.
Meanwhile, a severe thunderstorm warning means a storm with hail and/or damaging winds was seen on radar or identified by a storm spotter, and a tornado warning means a tornado has been spotted or radar activity indicates one could be forming.
"Severe thunderstorm warnings will tell you exactly what to expect in terms of wind speed and the size of possible hail," Sutherland said. "If you’re in an area where a tornado warning has been issued, seek shelter immediately and put your emergency plan into action."
Any emergency plan should incorporate designated meeting places both in and out of the neighborhood, as well as out of town, said Barbara Brown, OSU Cooperative Extension food specialist.
The plan also should document the location and contact information of places family members spend the most time, such as work or school, Brown said. You can include vital information on each family member, too, including birth date, Social Security Number and key medical details.
"Become familiar with the emergency plans at your work and your children’s schools in case you are separated or away from home when the storm hits," she said.
Besides developing an emergency plan, families should take some time to assemble their emergency supply kit. At a minimum, the kit should include items such as water and nonperishable food to last for at least three days, a weather radio, flashlight and extra batteries, a first aid kit and a change of clothes appropriate for the time of year.
A template for family emergency plan and a detailed list of possible emergency kit supplies is available at www.ready.gov.