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Oklahoma Hams Warn of Oncoming Tornadoes

02/12/2009

A rare winter tornado struck Oklahoma around dinner time on Tuesday, February 10. According to various news reports, Oklahoma officials credited Amateur Radio operators with spotting the tornadoes and relaying the information to the National Weather Service.

ARRL Oklahoma Section Emergency Coordinator Charles Goodson, KC5UEG, told the ARRL that the Southern Oklahoma ARES® group (SOARES) and other Amateur Radio operators from the Ardmore area served as SKYWARN® storm spotters. "After the tornado passed Lone Grove and Ardmore, several hams went back to the Lone Grove area," Goodson said. "One ham went to the Red Cross building and set up a communication command post from the Red Cross radio room. It was amateur operators who had the first visual contact with the tornadoes. They started reporting the tornado to Neil Mayo, KC5AMX, the Emergency Coordinator for Murray County and our Net control for severe weather events; he in turn reports to the National Weather Service in Norman via Amateur Radio."

The town of Lone Grove, population 4600 and located about 100 miles south of Oklahoma City, bore the brunt of the storm, with the Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (ODEM) reporting eight deaths and more than 100 homes destroyed. Two other tornadoes hit the Oklahoma City metro area and the north-central Oklahoma region late Tuesday. No serious injuries were reported in the Oklahoma City storm, but at least six homes were destroyed and businesses were damaged there, ODEM officials said.

ARRL Oklahoma Section Public Information Coordinator Kevin O'Dell, N0IRW, told the ARRL that his Ardmore home survived the tornado, but they are without power, water and other services. Other homes in his neighborhood were completely destroyed. Oklahoma Gas and Electric reported about 6000 customers are currently without power, with 3461 in Lone Grove.

Well-known contester Tim Duffy, K3LR, told the ARRL that he lost 40 percent of his home as a tornado blew through his town of Edmond, a suburb of Oklahoma City: "We lost all the doors and windows in the house, all the power, just everything. The damage is amazing. The cell phone system is still 'on tilt' with emergency services taking most of the channels. We're making big progress on getting things sorted out here. We will rebuild and make it better than it was before. With the house in complete disrepair, we'll be staying in a hotel for a while."

Duffy said that National Weather Service officials told him that the wind speed at his home was more than 150 MPH. While the family dog, a golden retriever, made it through the storm okay, Duffy said their pet cat is still missing. According to emergency management officials in Edmond, six homes were destroyed in the storm.

This storm took many by surprise because even in tornado-prone Oklahoma, February twisters are rare. According to the NWS, since 1950, only 44 twisters have touched down in the state during the month of February. The Lone Grove tornado was the third to cause multiple fatalities in the state since March 2007, when a Panhandle couple became the state's first tornado deaths in almost six years.



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