Severe-weather-watching is a common pastime in Oklahoma during the spring.
The National Weather Service held a Storm Spotter Training in Chickasha to educate residents on how to effectively—and safely—report severe weather.
Rick Smith, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Norman, said NWS gets much of their tornado confirmations from storm spotters.
Smith said the best way to report severe weather, whether it be a tornado, hail, flooding or other severe weather events—is to call the National Weather Service at 405-325-3816.
Storm spotters can also join the Storm Spotter Network at stormspotternetwork.org. Smith said using the National Weather Service Facebook, Twitter or email is less ideal than calling or using the Storm Spotter Network website.
Storm spotters should "report what they see" Smith said.
A good storm spotter report should be timely, concise, calm, clear, accurate, objective and obtained safely, according to Smith. He said all storm spotters should practice having situational awareness while they observe severe weather. They should also be aware of their location, the location of the storm as well as where the storm is heading. Smith advised that storm spotters also be aware of escape routes.
Smith said the three worse places to be during a tornado include a mobile home, in a vehicle or outside. The biggest safety concern any storm spotter faces is lightening, he said. He offered a helpful motto, "When thunder roars, go indoors." However if a storm spotter finds themselves in a vehicle during lighting, they should pull over and try to avoid contact with their steering wheel and radio.
Flooding during severe weather can be deadly for residents and storm spotters, Smith said. He advised that storm spotters avoid driving through water—which may be deeper than it initially appears—and not drive around barricades.
Wall clouds may be the most important thing to report, Smith said. A storm spotter should report if and how the wall cloud is changing, whether it is low to the ground and if there is any rotation.
The danger of a tornado may have more to due with what is in the tornado rather than the funnel itself, Smith said. The powerful winds of a tornado can often carry debris, creating a hazard. He added the size of the tornado may be bigger than the visible funnel.
In the event of hail, storm spotters may report the size of the hail, and compare it to a common object such as a coin. Storm spotters can also submit photos documenting damage caused by hail, wind or other severe weather events. However, Smith cautioned against assuming something was damaged by weather.
"If you don't know what caused it, don't assume," Smith said.
Smith dispelled some common safety myths. For example, Smith said there is nothing magical about a bathtub in the event of a tornado. When taking shelter in a home, it is more important to put as many walls between oneself and the outside and stay low to the ground.
Above all, Smith said storm spotters should practice safety. No picture or report is worth a person's life or property, he said.
Grady County's tornado warning average was less than usual, with two instead of the average five. However, Grady County did have more severe thunderstorms, Smith said.
Grady County has good radar coverage, but Smith said radars can't replace the human eye.
"No technology is going to replace storm spotters in the near future," he said.
Smith noted that radars, while helpful, are not super precise. Radars may only be updated every few minutes—and a lot can change in a few minutes.
"The only live data you have is what you see out your window," Smith said.
In 2017, there were about 1,500 tornadoes in the United States, higher than the average of 1,400. Oklahoma has an average of 56 tornados per year, but there were 85 in 2017. Of the 35 fatalities in the Unites States resulting from the tornados in 2017, one was an Oklahoma resident, Smith said.
The National Weather Service in Norman oversees 56 counties, 48 in Oklahoma and 8 in Texas.