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March 22, 2014

Preparing for bad weather: Annual Weather and Disaster Preparedness Day held at the mall

ENID, Okla. — The timing of Mike Honigsberg’s annual Weather and Disaster Preparedness Day isn’t a coincidence.

Just two days into spring, with Oklahoma’s severe weather season approaching, the information presented Saturday at Oakwood Mall was meant to help the public learn more about what to do in case a tornado or other severe weather event strikes.

Still, Honigsberg noted a dampened turnout compared with previous years, which he partially attributed to spring break.

“I sometimes kind of hope we have some rough weather. I don’t want any tornadoes or anything like that, but just enough to get everyone’s attention,” said Honigsberg, certified director of Enid and Garfield County Emergency Management. “It would be nice to have a little bit of rough weather to kind of open everybody’s eyes and tell them springtime is here, and things might get a little dicey as things go on.”

There were information booths manned by volunteer relief organizations and local emergency response agencies. In the mall’s parking lot, a showcase of local emergency response vehicles lined up for public inspection.

Rick Smith, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s bureau in Norman, said there’s no way to predict how bad weather will get. Not even in 2014, with the advances in radar, analysis and storm prediction.

“The official answer is  — no one knows,” he said, referring to the question he often gets. “I could make a forecast, but it’s not any good. Nobody can make a forecast at this point of what the spring’s going to be like.”

The catastrophic and tragic weather conditions that occurred last year in the Oklahoma City metro area happen on a small scale, he added. Specific and localized conditions aren’t known until a few hours beforehand.

“We can’t tell you anything at all about how busy this tornado season’s going to be,” Smith said. “What we do know is there will be tornadoes.”

It’s better to plan for one anyway, rather than focus on the likelihood of a stormy season.

“None of that really matters. It only takes one (tornado),” he said.

There are plenty of ways to get prepared for tornado season. The National Weather Service gives tips on its website. They also provide forecasts that can give a severe weather probability out to eight days, although the most accurate reports are released in the hours and minutes before a weather event.

The local emergency management agency, based at Enid Fire Department, distributes annual weather preparedness guides.

More tips are available through websites operated by the American Red Cross and FEMA.

“There’s a lot of really good information,” Honigsberg said. “The more you know, the better off you are, if and when it happens.”

One of the most important things to do in severe weather is stay off the road.

“Don’t be in your car during a tornado; because if you’re in your car, you have eliminated all your good options at that point,” Smith said.

People should treat springtime severe weather like winter storms: Make plans to leave work early or stay home, and stay off the roads.

“You can’t always change your plans dramatically, but you can prevent being in your car during a tornado if you just pay attention to the weather,” he said.

Smith recommends having at least three ways of receiving severe weather alerts.

“Saying you have three apps on your phone does not count. Even if you’ve got 15 of them, it only counts as one way,” he said during a storm-spotter training class Saturday. “If you lose cell phone service or Internet connection, then you’re not going to have that.”

Other ways include TV and radio broadcasts, the Internet, and weather radios that automatically broadcast alerts from the National Weather Service.

Weather radios are important to have, Honigsberg said, because they can be more reliable than other methods.

“These weather radios can be programmed so that when the NWS issues its watches and warnings, it tones the radios. It’ll wake you up,” he said.

Smith also said they’re useful because they have backup battery power in case a storm knocks out electric service.

“You can’t watch TV when the power’s out. And the TV won’t wake you up at 2:30 in the morning when a big storm comes through,” Smith said. “You’ve got to have redundant, multiple ways to get the message.”

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