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Tornado Week: When to sound the sirens

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- Even the experts cannot predict precisely which storms will drop a tornado.

When conditions are right in Oklahoma, there is always a chance... as was the case on March 25, 2015.

It was early in the season for Oklahoma. That evening, many thought the threat had passed.

At 6:30 p.m. there was no tornado warning in place. The sirens were not sounding. Some thought we'd dodged a bullet.

Moore resident Max Broderick shot this video of the March 25 tornado from his neighborhood near N.W. 11th St. and Penn in Moore. You can hear the wind whipping around, but no sirens.

When the debris started flying and the power poles snapped, residents knew a tornado had touched down.

Moore Police Officer Travis Muehlenweg saw the touchdown from his police unit and advised the Moore 911 center to sound the sirens.

Moore Emergency Manager Gayland Kitch got the message and made the call.

In Moore, it takes three clicks to activate the city's 37 sirens.

"Our goal is the keep our community safe, and if we can warn them of weather that's impending on us that's what we do," said Kitch. "We sound ours if there's a threat to our city. Our goal is to give 15 minutes. This storm didn't allow that."

The sirens sounded once at 6:40 p.m., according to Kitch, who has been the Emergency Manager for 24 years.

They're not dependent on each other. We don't wait for the warning to push the button. If we have indications, we go ahead.

In Oklahoma City, the the sirens sounded four times: 6:31 p.m., 6:36 p.m., 6:39 p.m. and 6:43 p.m.

The Oklahoma City emergency response team also activated because a police officer spotted the tornado on the ground, according to Emergency Manager Frank Barnes, who said, "The city of Oklahoma City outdoor warning system and the policies we have in place worked like they were supposed to on March 25th."

Both communities activated before the Tornado Warning was issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) in Norman.

Meteorologist Rick Smith heads the severe weather team at NWS where two dozen meteorologists work 24/7 feeding weather reports to communities around Oklahoma.

"We don't tell them when to sound sirens necessarily," said Smith. "We just give them weather information. That's really one of our most important roles is being advisors to the local communities and helping them make decisions."

The goal at NWS is always to give as much warning as the storm allows.

On March 25, the NWS Tornado Warning for Oklahoma City came down at 6:41 p.m. after the tornado touchdown. The agency issued the Tornado Warning for Moore at 6:43 p.m.

"Outdoor warning sirens are an important part of someone's outdoor weather information plan. We want people to have at least three different ways to get a warning in Oklahoma. If you live here, you need to have multiple ways, tiers of ways," Smith said.

The sirens should be a life-saving, last resort for folks who've missed every other early warning available in the tornado capital of the world.

 

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