As tornado season approaches, university officials said they want students to feel prepared and capable in extreme weather situations.
Because of this winter’s weak La Niña, the state should expect about 20 tornadoes in April and the same amount in May, said Damon Lane, chief meteorologist for KOCO 5 News, in a forecast report.
La Niña refers to a warming of the ocean’s surface, typically causing warmer temperatures during winter, which leads to disruption in air movements and precipitation.
In Oklahoma, a weak La Niña usually means an increase in April tornadoes instead of the usual greater concentration in May, Lane said. The last weak La Niña occurred in 2012, when the state saw 54 tornadoes in April and only three in May.
Students will receive texts or emails via the Blue Alert emergency notification system in the case of severe weather that warrants class cancellation or university closure. Provost Kent Buchanan makes all decisions regarding closings and delays. If classes continue and students do not feel safe traveling to campus, they should contact individual professors about how to make up missed work, according to the university’s inclement weather policy.
Lee Brown, university risk manager, encouraged students to stay weather aware.
“It’s not as likely as you think it’s going to be, but if sirens sound near campus, take shelter and remain calm,” Brown said. “Remember that Oklahoma County has a new siren policy, so if you hear a siren on campus, it means the tornado is in this section of the county.”
The policy, adopted in late 2015, divides Oklahoma County into zones. If the National Weather Service issues a tornado warning for an area, sirens will only sound in that zone, as opposed to the entire county as it did before.
A tornado warning means that a tornado was sighted or shown on a radar, whereas a tornado watch means that weather conditions exist for a tornado to develop.
Some students said they do not feel in danger around tornadoes, even during a warning.
“They don’t freak me out as much as they should because they don’t really ever get to campus,” said Shelby McCarver, acting sophomore. “But, if I were in a tornado, I would want to go to Bass. There’s something I like about the idea of sleeping wrapped in a blanket in a practice room while a music major lulls me to sleep.”
The best protection during a tornado warning is an underground shelter or steel-framed building. The school’s crisis management plan directs students to avoid gymnasiums and auditoriums with large, less supported roofs.
If someone does not have time to find a basement, they should go to their building’s ground floor, find a central room away from windows and take cover under heavy furniture. In an outdoor situation where there is no time to reach a building, take cover and lie in a ditch.