Preparing for Major Tornadoes

What we’re talking about

Learn how devastating and catastrophic EF 5 tornadoes severely impacted Joplin Missouri and Moore, Oklahoma. And how can you prepare for such a destructive tornado. 

EF 5 Tornadoes are the strongest storms on earth with winds more than 200 mph and in 1999 one tornado produced a record wind speed of 314 miles per hour as it was devastating Moore, Oklahoma.  To survive a tornado, you need to have a sturdy room in the lowest level of a secure home on a foundation. It is not recommended to try and out run a tornado, but the most devastating twisters can be life threatening if you are not in a secure shelter.  The last EF 5 tornado recorded in the U.S. hit Moore, Oklahoma in May, 2013.


(0:06 – 0:22) 

Tornadoes can produce the strongest winds on Earth. They can be destructive and deadly, and when they reach EF-5 intensity, can devastate entire communities. From Moore, Oklahoma, the town hit twice by EF-5 tornadoes in 1999 and 2013. 

(0:23 – 0:36) 

We’ll hear from local TV meteorologist, Damon Lane, who was on air as an EF-5 was headed on a direct path towards his home in Moore. This is a tornado emergency. This is higher than a tornado warning. 

(0:36 – 1:00) 

This is the most significant of all warnings that we can issue when it comes to a tornado, okay? This is more significant than a tornado warning. A tornado emergency is now in effect for Cleveland, McLean, and Oklahoma County. Then to Joplin, Missouri, where an EF-5 killed 158 and injured over 1,100 in May 2011. 

(1:01 – 1:33) 

Joplin Fire Chief, Jim Ferguson, will recount that terrible day. I think our saving grace, if there was any, was that this was on a Sunday evening and not a Saturday or rush hour type event where there would have been more people on the streets driving home, going out to dinner on a Saturday night, things like that. And how common are EF-5 tornadoes, and how can you survive these monster twisters? Noted forecaster and tornado researcher, Dr. Greg Forbes, joins us with tips on how to prepare for some of the strongest storms on Earth. 

(1:33 – 1:42) 

Well, the EF-5, or originally the EF-5 tornadoes, they are relatively uncommon. Only about one per year on average. Some years don’t have any. 

(1:43 – 2:02) 

Some years, especially when there’s a huge destructive tornado outbreak, may get several. This is the Disaster Recovery Roundtable, a platform to explore, engage, and educate the emergency management community. Our topics are timely and relevant, intended to promote the exchange of ideas and best practices. 

(2:03 – 2:26) 

Now, here’s your host, Greg Paget. And thank you, Steve Henderson, and welcome to Disaster Recovery Roundtable and our expanded coverage of National Preparedness Month as we continue sharing tips and information on preparing for all types of hazards, from wildfires to hurricanes, floods, and now tornadoes. In this episode, our guests share their experience with some historic and devastating EF-5 tornadoes. 

(2:26 – 2:55) 

Our first guest has spent his entire career researching and forecasting severe weather. Dr. Greg Forbes received his meteorology degree from Penn State University and then continued researching tornadoes at the University of Chicago, where he received his M.S. and his Ph.D. It’s also where he worked alongside famed researcher Dr. Ted Fujitan, known for developing the Tornado Intensity Fujita Scale. Dr. Forbes joined the Weather Channel in 1999 and retired as lead severe weather forecaster in 2018. 

(2:56 – 3:08) 

And while at the Weather Channel, Dr. Forbes developed the TORCON Scale, which is used to identify the percent chance of a tornado when there’s severe weather in the forecast. Welcome to Disaster Recovery Roundtable, Dr. Forbes. My pleasure. 

(3:08 – 3:21) 

As we talk about EF-5 tornadoes, those are the granddaddies of them all. We don’t see a lot of them, but when we do, they are quite destructive. You’ve done a lot of research from your years of looking at tornadoes and how they form. 

(3:21 – 3:53) 

Talk to us about EF-5s. How common are they? Will we see more going into the future as we look at climate change? Are there other factors where we could see more of these devastating types of tornadoes? Well, the EF-5, or originally the F-5 tornadoes, they are relatively uncommon. Only about one per year on average. 

Some years don’t have any. Some years, especially when there’s a huge destructive tornado outbreak, may get several. Whether or not that’s going to increase in the future, it’s hard to predict because they are so sporadic. 

(3:53 – 4:28) 

The one factor there that beyond climate change is that urban sprawl is making the targets bigger for some of these strong tornadoes that previously would perhaps just go through forests or farmland and wouldn’t have anything to hit that would merit a 5 rating. Now, if you have a subdivision in those areas, that could potentially get you a 5 rating for some of these stronger tornadoes. So we could have some of that that will increase the number of EF-5 rated tornadoes in the future. 

(4:29 – 5:49) 

I know you studied the 74 outbreak. When they do occur and those perfect conditions are just right there for a big part of the country, how devastating can those be? How important is it for people to really have a sense of awareness when it comes in regards to tornado preparedness and education? We’ve had two tornado outbreaks now that we call super outbreaks, the one from April 3rd, 1974, and then super outbreak 2011 that primarily was April 27th, 2011. It actually had more tornadoes and covered a longer stretch of time from basically the 25th through the 27th and had more tornadoes in total. 

In fact, on the one day there, I had about 200 tornadoes, whereas there were 148 in April 3rd, 1974. But it’s these kind of super outbreaks that really have the most impact in a widespread area because they affect so many states, so many locations. And often because all the weather ingredients have come together to make for these big widespread outbreaks, they often also will contain quite a few of these four and five rated tornadoes that are capable of pretty much destroying any man-made structure in their path. 

(5:49 – 6:10) 

Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll ask Dr. Forbes what’s the most memorable severe weather outbreak of his career and later, some tips from Dr. Forbes that could save your life. You’re listening to Disaster Recovery Roundtable, available on your favorite podcast provider and on our website at And now, back to your host, Greg Paget. 

(6:11 – 6:25) 

And welcome back. In this episode of Disaster Recovery Roundtable, we’ve been discussing the intensity and impacts of catastrophic tornadoes, those EF5s that just devastate communities. Our first guest has been Dr. Greg Forbes from The Weather Channel. 

(6:25 – 6:52) 

He retired in 2018. Dr. Forbes, from your career covering tornadoes and outbreaks in your research, which event stands out the most memorable for you? Probably the one that stands out most in my mind because it’s recent is Moore in 2013 in Oklahoma. We were, I was with Mike Bettis and The Weather Channel storm chasing crew, storm tracking crew out in that general vicinity. 

(6:52 – 7:05) 

We were just a little bit south, one storm south of the tornado that hit the Moore area. We raced north then and got up into the damage. And so I spent quite a bit of time looking at the damage. 

(7:05 – 7:25) 

We were at the western of the two high schools that got hit. And the whole subdivision there was pretty much destroyed. Much of it leveled piles of rubble and some huge, I think it was eight ton water tank from a horse farm had come flying in from about a half mile away and landed in the middle of that subdivision. 

(7:25 – 7:36) 

So that really struck me as well as just the extent of the damage all the way across that portion of Moore. But I’ve seen this. I didn’t see as much of the damage at Xenia. 

(7:36 – 7:57) 

I saw some of the damage at Guinn, Alabama and Tanner, Alabama back from the 1974 outbreak. And I saw in Wheatland, Pennsylvania, the F5 damage there from 1985. The F5 there was just a limited area. 

(7:58 – 8:16) 

So perhaps the one that I’ve seen personally that has been the most destructive has been that Moore 2013, Oklahoma. You referenced Mike Bettis from the Weather Channel when y’all were up in Moore back in 2013. Mike was also on the ground for the Joplin, Missouri tornado. 

(8:16 – 8:27) 

And coming up in a little bit in this podcast, we’re going to hear from the fire chief there in Joplin about how they’re still continuing to recover from that. We’re almost 10 years from that storm. Next May will be the 10-year anniversary. 

(8:28 – 8:41) 

These storms, when they come through in the impact communities, can really have a long-term impact when we talk about recovery. Yeah, they certainly can because so much of the community is damaged. It takes a long time to recover. 

(8:42 – 9:03) 

Some places never recover. If it has been a small town, there have been a few places that have perhaps had just a few, mostly were just a postmark location on the map. Some places that have become ghost towns because tornadoes have literally destroyed them and people just didn’t rebuild. 

(9:03 – 9:30) 

You’ve seen the damage that they can do. What are some main things that you would tell people that they really need to consider and do before an outbreak occurs or if they hear it’s going to be one of those bad tornado days? Yeah, you really need to know where your safe places are, whether it’s at home or at work or wherever you’re going to be, so that you don’t have to think once you see or once you know the tornado is coming upon you. You don’t have to think about where to go. 

(9:30 – 9:45) 

You can go there instantly. Certainly the thing that I urge is that if you get in those kind of situations, get as low as you can, the lowest, innermost portion of a sturdy building, hopefully. Try to protect your head. 

(9:45 – 9:51) 

If you have a helmet, put that on. Get under some heavy furniture. Get under a mattress. 

(9:51 – 10:11) 

Get under something to protect you from things that may be flying and falling upon you. But that said, if you don’t have some kind of a storm shelter, there’s no man-made structure that ordinary human beings are living in that will withstand a tornado. Mobile homes, certainly not. 

(10:11 – 10:26) 

Frame homes, certainly not. High-rise buildings are made of concrete and steel. The shell of the building will withstand it, but all the windows will be blown out, and so there will be all sorts of debris and so-called shrapnel that would be flying through the buildings. 

(10:26 – 10:47) 

So these strongest of tornadoes, they don’t hit very large targets, and they don’t hit all the time. But when and where they do, it is a challenge to stay safe. That said, if you’re doing the right thing, only about 25 percent of the people that are hit by these kind of tornado winds actually die. 

(10:47 – 10:59) 

So you can survive if you do the right thing. And then, again, another element most importantly also is having the capability to receive an alert and a notification. With this day and age, almost everybody has a phone. 

(11:00 – 11:30) 

Everyone has some way to likely know that there’s a tornado coming, but, you know, it’s those overnight and those in the middle of the overnight tornadoes that can be also just as deadly because people are asleep. Maybe they have their phones turned off. How important is that alert and notification capability as well? Yeah, it’s really important to have some way to get the warning to be signed up to some kind of alert system so that if you aren’t paying attention personally, that you will know that there is a tornado in your area. 

(11:30 – 11:55) 

You can’t count on sirens in most places. If you’re at home, the home is somewhat soundproof, and if there is any kind of background noise and the sirens are, say, two miles away, the chances that you’re going to really be awakened or made aware by some of those sirens are really not 100 percent. So having some fallback position is certainly a good one. 

(11:56 – 11:59) 

Absolutely. Well, definitely well-deserved. Enjoy that retirement. 

(11:59 – 12:18) 

Thank you so much. That’s Dr. Greg Forbes, noted forecaster when it comes to tornadoes from Penn State University and also the University of Chicago and, of course, from The Weather Channel. Thank you. 

My pleasure. Stay with us. Up next, we’ll visit Joplin, Missouri, site of a devastating EF5 tornado that turned a peaceful Sunday afternoon into a catastrophe. 

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You’re listening to Disaster Recovery Roundtable. For this and other episodes of Disaster Recovery Roundtable, visit forward slash education. Now back to your host, Greg Paget. 

(12:30 – 12:42) 

And welcome back. We are discussing how to prepare for the worst that Mother Nature can throw at us, devastating and destructive major tornadoes. In May 2011, the city of Joplin, Missouri, was nearly leveled by an EF5 tornado. 

(12:43 – 12:53) 

161 people perished in that storm and over 1,100 were left injured. Jim Ferguson was a battalion chief for the Joplin City Fire Department at that time. Now he’s the fire chief for the city. 

(12:53 – 12:59) 

Welcome, Chief Ferguson, to Disaster Recovery Roundtable. Hey, thank you for having us. Let’s begin with that day back in May 2011. 

(13:00 – 13:10) 

I understand you were battalion chief at the time. How did the day start for you? Well, the day started off for me pretty normal. I actually was not on duty the day of the tornado, so that Sunday was like any other Sunday for us. 

(13:10 – 13:21) 

We got up, went to church, had a family day. I remember building, we had bought the kids a trampoline for Christmas, so we were finally getting around to get it built. So it was really like any other day. 

(13:21 – 13:32) 

I was actually out cooking dinner at home. I live about 18 miles south of Joplin, so I was just at home. I remember grilling steaks when the event happened. 

(13:33 – 13:53) 

As a member of the fire department, what type of response did you eventually get pulled into for the storm? Did they just put out an all-call, everybody come in? Well, I had actually started receiving calls from my daughter saying, Hey, Dad, they say there’s a tornado on the ground here or there. Well, when you live in this area as long as we have, you know, we’ve had numerous tornado warnings. None of them had ever truly come to fruition. 

(13:54 – 14:03) 

There had been a couple of small ones here or there. And then I got the text from the fire chief at the time, which was Mitch Randles. He’s now the fire chief at Temple, Texas, but he said, Hey, I need you to get up here. 

(14:04 – 14:14) 

When I first responded into the city, I immediately reported to St. John’s Hospital. St. John’s Hospital was one of our bigger hospitals. We have two here in town. 

(14:14 – 14:26) 

St. John’s had taken a pretty good hit. So I spent probably about the first three and a half, four hours there triaging, assessing situations, things like that. So that’s where I spent the lion’s share of the evening. 

(14:26 – 14:39) 

I then responded downtown to our main fire station where we had set up a staging area. As people were coming into town to assist, we had two staging areas set up. We had a north end, which is where I ended up being. 

(14:39 – 15:05) 

And then we had a south end staging. And then, of course, as the days went on, I transitioned in more to an operational role down in the emergency operations center, where I spent the next three days. How long did the search and rescue last as far as trying to locate victims? If I remember correctly, we did three full sweeps back and forth across the entire city from west side to east side and back. 

(15:05 – 15:19) 

At the time, we just want to make sure that we didn’t miss anybody. So it took about three days to continue to do a search and rescue. I would say the lion’s share of the rescues and any searching was done in that first 24-hour period or less. 

(15:19 – 15:33) 

In order to make sure that we weren’t missing people that might have been trapped, things like that, we did that three times. I understand there was graduation getting ready to happen or underway or something like that. The graduation had just completed at Missouri Southern, which was not in the line of this storm, thankfully. 

(15:33 – 16:08) 

But I do know that some people that were on their way home from graduation or had just completed graduation were affected by it. From your experiences with this tornado and dealing with the aftermath, what is your advice for someone who lives in a tornado-prone area? What are the top three to five things that they should consider or they should do have on hand? Number one, I’d say take weather seriously. Even me as an emergency responder, when a tornado warning would occur or when severe weather was prevalent, we always didn’t take them seriously because we were just so used to them occurring time after time after time and nothing coming to fruition. 

(16:08 – 16:31) 

If you hear the media, you hear your local emergency managers, your fire department saying, hey, pay attention, pay attention. It could truly save your life. Have a few days’ worth of supplies, whether food, water, non-perishable food, because on a tornado like this, there were things completely destroyed. 

(16:33 – 16:51) 

And it may be a few days before you get some food. So have some kind of kit on hand to make sure that you can sustain maybe three to four days. And the third thing is, you know, shelter in place. 

Get to the lowest portion. Don’t try to outrun a storm. So shelter in place. 

(16:51 – 17:22) 

Get to the basement, get to a cellar, get to the lowest point of your home without any walls or windows and shelter in place. Those are the big three things. Would you say today that your community there, the public, is probably more vigilant during severe weather threats and better prepared than say they were prior to this storm impact? I would say that depending on who you are, if you were dramatically affected by this event, I’m going to say that you probably really are more weather aware than somebody that may not have been. 

(17:23 – 17:43) 

It’s kind of funny, you know, you still see people out, you know, when the tornado signs are going off out in their cars or driving around, things like that. But I think for the most part, the majority of this community is very, very weather aware now, probably more so than prior to 2011. And are we better prepared? Sure. 

(17:43 – 18:20) 

I mean, any time that you’ve ever been through an event like this from an emergency management standpoint, I would say that we are probably more prepared than most because we lived it. And it was a part of our lives for several weeks and months, not only from a response standpoint, but also as we went into a recovery phase, which lasted several years and really just wrapped up within the last year or two. And there may be actually something still ongoing from an economic development planning part that I may not be privy to. 

(18:20 – 18:31) 

But I do know that there was still dollars we were spending to fix some infrastructure and things like that. Just as recently as last year or so. And next year, Joplin will commemorate the 10 year anniversary of that tornado in May. 

(18:31 – 18:51) 

Thank you, Chief Ferguson, for that look back on that terrible day in your city. Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll head over to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and hear from a local TV meteorologist who was on here warning the public of an approaching EF5 tornado back in 2013 as his wife was taking shelter at home directly in the storm’s path. 

(18:51 – 19:05) 

We’ll be right back. You’re listening to Disaster Recovery Roundtable, available on your favorite podcast provider and on our website at And now back to your host, Greg Paget. And welcome back. 

(19:05 – 19:24) 

We’re talking about major tornadoes that can impact an area or a community. And how can you be prepared? EF5 tornadoes can produce the strongest winds on Earth. Back in 1999, an EF5 tornado set a record for winds recorded at a whopping 314 miles per hour as it tore through Moore, Oklahoma. 

(19:24 – 19:41) 

Unfortunately, in 2013, the city of Moore was under assault again. And another EF5 hit that community. Our next guest was a meteorologist at KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City and was on air warning the public of severe storms that day when that EF5 formed. 

(19:41 – 19:53) 

Let’s listen in to some of that storm coverage back from that catastrophic day. A tornado emergency is now in effect for Cleveland, McLean, and Oklahoma County. We’re at 149th and South Main. 

(19:53 – 19:59) 

Just saw a power flash in the sky, Damon. This is a large, violent tornado. It is moving to the northeast. 

(20:00 – 20:04) 

You are in Moore. I would go ahead and get underground right now. Violent tornado. 

(20:05 – 20:17) 

Do not go to the Moore public schools to pick up your children. They are being held in school. And they are going to be placed in their designated tornado shelters within the school. 

(20:17 – 20:23) 

Right along Southwest 149th Street. Right down Penn Avenue. Western Avenue. 

(20:24 – 20:30) 

As you move into Moore. Again, this is a large tornado that is coming in. Chance Coldiron, go. 

(20:30 – 20:40) 

Damon, this is EF5 right now. It just crossed the river. I think I see two cars get picked up off the bridge thrown in the air. 

(20:40 – 20:47) 

This thing is violent. People have to be on underground just like Rusty said. We’ve got power lines down. 

(20:47 – 20:55) 

The old bridge on I-44, the metal bridge, has been taken down. We’ve got some strong winds. People need to be in their shelters. 

(20:56 – 21:06) 

The exact location of the tornado is going to be just to the south of 149th Street. We’ll be doing it right now. Okay, I am detecting debris in this storm with our radar. 

(21:06 – 21:17) 

You can see the radar on the right-hand side of your television screen there. That pink shading that you see right there, that is debris that is in this storm. So this is a large, violent tornado. 

(21:17 – 21:31) 

A tornado emergency has been issued for Cleveland County and Southern Oklahoma County. Although as the storm turns more… That was Damon Lane, chief meteorologist at KOCO-TV. And his storm crew there that were covering the storm that day. 

(21:31 – 21:47) 

Damon joins us now on Disaster Recovery Roundtable. Welcome, Damon. Yeah, absolutely. 

Thanks for the invite. I understand you live in Moore, Oklahoma, there in Oklahoma City. You moved there, what, four years ago, four years prior to the May 2013 tornado, which was an EF-5 tornado. 

(21:47 – 22:07) 

Why did you choose Moore as a place to live there in the Oklahoma City region? You know, it’s interesting. So, yeah, let’s go back to 2009 and what was happening across the United States. We were just coming out of a pretty bad economic period, and so the federal government had come out with these first-time homebuyer tax credits. 

(22:07 – 22:37) 

It was an $8,000 credit, and I had just moved to Oklahoma, and so I was trying to see where could I get the most bang for my buck. And there are TV stations on the north Oklahoma City side here, and so a lot of the people actually live in a town called Edmond, which is going to be in northern sides of the OKC metro. But I was talking to my realtor and kept telling her, you know, what I wanted out of a house and what my limit was on how much I was able to afford, and she said, you know, she’s like, you’re going to be able to get more bang for your buck. 

(22:37 – 23:01) 

You’re going to be able to get more value for your money if you look at this community, you know, Moore, which is going to be down in southern parts of the metro. And, of course, you know, I knew of Moore from textbook and what we learned about the 1999 May 3 tornado, and I thought, well, you know, everyone always talks about tornadoes coming in here, but it can’t happen again. I mean, you know, 1999, you know, F5 tornado at the time. 

(23:01 – 23:15) 

You know, I mean, it can’t happen again. Surely it can’t happen again. So I moved to Moore, and that was back in 2009, and it wasn’t shortly thereafter when suddenly, you know, things started to get a little active. 

(23:15 – 23:27) 

You know, while 2013 was happening, we also had kind of a lot of brushes with other tornadoes around the area. They weren’t as bad, you know, back in 2010 and 2011. But Moore, it was a good place. 

(23:27 – 23:41) 

It is a good place. Cost of living is a little bit less there than other parts of the Oklahoma City metro, and really because of its location, there’s a lot of what I needed really nearby. So it was a great pick for me, I felt. 

(23:41 – 23:59) 

Well, and it came, you know, as you said, what, 14 years or so or more after the 1999 EF5 tornado that went through the same community. Tell us about that day back on May 20, 2013. From what I understand, it was day two of an ongoing severe weather outbreak in central Oklahoma? It absolutely was. 

(24:00 – 24:16) 

So on May 19th, we had a dry line that was just west of I-35, and so storms had gone up. They had become deadly. We had a couple tornadoes that went just east of Cleveland County and just east of Moore, Oklahoma, and Pottawatomie County and up towards Logan and Lincoln County. 

(24:16 – 24:44) 

And so the next day, May 20, if you wake up and look at the data, the dry line is actually just a little bit farther west than where it was the previous day. So not much had changed, and so we figured, well, storms are going to probably go up just a little bit farther west than they did the day before. And it started out, you know, as one of those days where you looked at the morning data and everything was saying it’s going to be a little bit farther down to the south and more like Lawton, Oklahoma. 

(24:45 – 25:05) 

But I had gone into work early that day, and my wife, who’s newly married, she had gone into work that day as well. And so we didn’t have any children at the time, just a few dogs. And at about, oh, 12, 1 o’clock, we started doing cut-ins, and I had messaged her and said, hey, you know, I need you to go home early today. 

(25:05 – 25:22) 

I don’t want you to be stuck on the roads when storms are going to be coming through. And she said, well, is Moore going to get hit? And so our very first thunderstorm that day actually went up very close to northern parts of Oklahoma City, very close to the TV station, and it kind of went up. It struggled a little bit. 

(25:22 – 25:36) 

We had about quarter-size hail here at the TV station, which really, in Oklahoma standards, is not all that large. And we thought, well, maybe this is going to be it. And then another storm started to go up just southwest of Oklahoma City in a community called Newcastle. 

(25:36 – 26:01) 

And that one started seeing signs of it rotating, and I remember sending my wife a text message and said, I need you to go home right now. And she’s like, I’m getting on the highway. And as she’s getting into Moore, you know, she looks out to the west, and she can just see this dark sky and this large wedge tornado. 

(26:02 – 26:16) 

I’m on air at the same time while text messaging her, making sure that she can get home. Well, she did not have a key to our house. You know, she was kind of like a lot of people, you know, you enter in and out of your house through your garage. 

(26:16 – 26:34) 

And so she got home, and within 30 seconds, the power went out. Now, had she gotten home 30 seconds later, she would not have been able to get into our house to get her dogs and to get into our tornado shelter. So we’re text messaging back and forth, back and forth while I’m on air, and this tornado is coming into Moore. 

(26:34 – 26:56) 

And I remember sending her a text message, and I said, get in the shelter right now. So she goes to get into the shelter, and we had a large Alaskan Malamute, kind of like a husky Malamute mix. And he was large and tried to bite her because she was trying to take him outside into the shelter. 

(26:56 – 27:07) 

And so she said, hey, Skylar won’t get in the shelter. He tried to bite me, so I put him in the pantry. And I said, please grab Skylar, throw him down in the shelter. 

(27:08 – 27:18) 

I don’t want him to die. And so she goes and grabs him, and he goes tumbling into the shelter. And that was the last that I heard from her for a little while. 

(27:18 – 27:24) 

And I’m trying to call. All phone lines are down. That’s one thing that I think a lot of people become so dependent on technology. 

(27:24 – 27:39) 

But when you have a natural disaster, a lot of things don’t work. Not only power, but cell phone towers are down. And so all of a sudden your ability to communicate the way that you’re used to becomes a bigger challenge. 

(27:39 – 27:50) 

And so I remember I threw my phone to our general manager, and I said, get my wife on the phone. Keep calling, keep calling, keep calling. And finally, she’s able to get through. 

(27:50 – 28:06) 

The first time I actually heard her voice was on air on KOCO during our weather coverage. And she was like, it looks like a war zone in our neighborhood. And a lot of that day is kind of a blur. 

(28:07 – 28:35) 

No one ever really teaches you how to handle yourself when you have a large natural disaster and you think that your family might be dying at the same time trying to be on television. And that night, I remember we had a police officer, and he was in the studio talking. And I told him where I lived, and he said, when you are able to go home, give this gentleman a call, and he’ll escort you into your neighborhood. 

(28:36 – 28:58) 

And so I give this gentleman a call at about midnight, 1 o’clock. And he said, oh, he goes, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to get you back there. And through navigating through some back roads and kind of some longer detours, I was able to finally get to my house. 

(28:58 – 29:13) 

The front of our neighborhood was as gone as gone can be. I mean, we had EF-5 damage in front of our neighborhood, so there was just debris all over the place. My house sustained much, I guess you could say, lower intensity damage. 

(29:14 – 29:37) 

I was still able to stay there at night, although we had a little bit of cosmetic damage. But it was a period in which not only that day, but just those two weeks of severe weather that we had in Oklahoma. We had more severe weather in Oklahoma from May 19th to May 31st than I think most people will probably experience in a lifetime. 

(29:37 – 30:33) 

You’re a fascinating interview. I would imagine your wife may be just as fascinating because it sounds like her story was just as compelling to see the tornado in your rearview mirror trying to rush home, almost getting locked out, then having to grab a dog that’s not very friendly to you and get in the storm shelter there in the backyard. How is she now and how does she respond when there’s a threat of severe weather? Do you ever see anxiety from her? I do. 

I do. And she will ask me all the time, you know, how bad is today going to be? Is today really going to be that bad? Is it going to be like 2013 bad? Like, do I need to run into the shelter or is it going to be like a low chance for a tornado? And she’s very much in tune with the weather, as most Oklahomans are, especially in March, April, May, and June. But, yeah, she will ask me the same thing. 

(30:33 – 31:01) 

And she already has a bag that is ready to go, and it has everything from a small toilet, toilet paper, bottled water, food in there. And so she is very prepared because she had to live it. And, you know, unfortunately for me, I was away, you know, on air and a very busy period during those two weeks back in 2013. 

(31:01 – 31:13) 

But for her, she’s there. She’s right in it. And so, yeah, she still will ask me every single day that there’s a chance for storms, you know, how bad is it going to be. 

(31:14 – 31:22) 

And she’s glued. She’s glued to the weather. Now, COCO is known for its coverage of severe weather there in Oklahoma City and in central Oklahoma. 

(31:22 – 31:34) 

Talk to us a little bit about your operation. When you guys go into storm mode, how does it work? I understand you have a lot of freelancers that come in, storm chasers that support your whole coverage. I imagine it’s all hands on deck for the entire station. 

(31:34 – 31:51) 

How does that work? It really is. You know, we kind of run on this mentality here that it’s always easier to scale back your coverage than to try to ramp up. So a lot of times people will look at our coverage and they’ll have a hard time trying to figure out if we’re covering a high risk or a slight risk because we have so many chasers out there. 

(31:51 – 32:06) 

But we also know that, you know, some of our biggest days are not always the high risk days. Yes, those are big days, but those are few. You know, you have many more slight risk days and enhanced days than you do high risk days. 

(32:06 – 32:24) 

And the way that, you know, you look at a tornado is it’s a low probability but high impact event. There’s a very low chance that anyone will ever be directly impacted by a tornado. But if you are, there’s a very high chance that it will forever be in your mind and it will go down as the worst tornado to you. 

(32:24 – 32:45) 

You know, I know a lot of times we look at an EF5 tornado and think that that’s like the worst tornado. But if the only tornado that you ever see is an EF1 and it blows out a window or does something, then to you that’s the worst tornado ever. So, yeah, our operations, you know, we are very severe weather heavy. 

(32:45 – 33:06) 

We kind of joke out here at KOCO that news is what we do while we wait for weather to happen because people, they love their weather coverage. Speaking of 2013, if you look at all the ratings from all the TV stations in the market, there are more people watching local news that day than the Super Bowl. So you have to be there for the viewers. 

(33:06 – 33:44) 

And because of the size of our coverage area, and it’s pretty large, you know, we cover a tornado warning in Elk City the same way that we cover a tornado warning in Oklahoma City. And that is you have to be there because as while social media and digital media is so hot now, the number one way to get your message out to the mass in the fastest ways possible is still television. So we so we do have a very intense operation with storm chasers, helicopter, investing in weather. 

(33:44 – 34:12) 

One thing that I’ll never forget hearing about is, you know, back in the 1980s when television radar was really becoming just an important tool for a lot of stations to get, a lot of stations went out and got them. Well, they have about 30 years shelf life and a lot of TV stations started to unplug their local radars because National Weather Service radar was getting better. And with certain types of modes and operation, you were able to get data back to the station faster. 

(34:12 – 34:24) 

So they were saying, well, now that these radars have expired, you know, we can just run with National Weather Service radar. And there’s a little bit of a delay. But at KOCO, you know, they said, look, we will not do that. 

(34:25 – 35:03) 

We will still invest in technology. And so, you know, upgrading our radar over the last couple of years is not a cheap is not cheap. We upgraded our helicopter in the last couple of years as well. 

And that is not cheap as well. So we’ve invested in we’ve invested in the technology. We’ve invested in hiring more meteorologists and more storm chasers, because while you can have the greatest technology and a radar, viewers want to see the picture of the tornado. 

(35:03 – 35:20) 

And so you’ve got to be there, even if it’s something real small. You’ve got to be there for them. So kind of to go back. 

Yeah. You know, sometimes people look at our coverage and they say, wow, it’s you know, it’s just a slight risk. But in our mind, there’s no such thing as just a slight risk. 

(35:20 – 36:31) 

How did you invest with your relationship with emergency management? You know, that’s a lot of our listeners are in the emergency management community. How important is that for you as a member of the media in Oklahoma City? Oh, it’s it’s so important. It is. 

It is so important. As a matter of fact, you know, one of the yearly talks that we always make sure that we are a part of is a big group or all the emergency managers from all the cities and counties and reservations in Oklahoma. They come together, usually in Norman, Oklahoma. 

And we go there just to listen to them, hear what it is that they’re concerned about, what it is that they want to hear more of from the broadcast meteorologist, because it’s this relationship that we need them just as much as they need us. And so if you have any kinks in that, then you even if you’re a couple of seconds late in getting that message out to the to the mass. So, you know, it’s very important and them giving us a heads up that, hey, this is what we’re seeing or we’re about the sound of sirens. 

(36:32 – 37:01) 

And so we need you to tell the community why the sirens are sounding or, hey, this is what we’re doing now. And this is what we like or this is what we don’t like. And so, you know, if you don’t ever listen to the emergency managers and what they what their needs are, then you’re not doing the public any good because they’re in the community. 

(37:02 – 37:39) 

You know, whether it’s a small town and, you know, that’s so far away, but they’re helping relay the information. So it’s always important to make sure that you just that that relationship is firm, that you have as good of a relationship as you can, because at the end of the day, we’re all here to help each other out. As a matter of fact, you know, a great example about how important this these these relationships are is it was about two about two weeks ago and in a certain part of Oklahoma City, we had picked up about seven inches of rain in about two hours. 

(37:39 – 37:53) 

And it was just pouring down rain. And we knew the flooding situation was pretty bad. Well, the emergency manager for Oklahoma City, he jumps into our chat room and he just starts providing us all this useful information. 

(37:54 – 38:14) 

Hey, just talk to the fire department. You know, they they’re concerned about they think someone was swept away in this area and he’s passing on information to us or, hey, just so you all know, this area is beginning to flood. And so now fire department or police officers are beginning to block it off. 

(38:14 – 38:38) 

And so rather than us coming up on the scene and saying, oh, there are police officers here, we already know. And that right there allows us, even if it’s a couple of minutes, a heads up to be able to pass that information along to the viewer. So those utilizing those chat rooms and being able to get that information is is is so is so important, so important. 

(38:38 – 38:50) 

Really good to hear there, Damon, that emergency management and the media do work so closely there together in Oklahoma City. Thank you so much for being part of Disaster Recovery Roundtable. Thank you so much. 

(38:51 – 39:05) 

We would like to thank Damon and our other guests today. Chief Jim Ferguson from the city of Joplin, Missouri, and retired tornado and severe storm specialist Dr. Greg Forbes, formerly with the Weather Channel. Don’t forget to check out our other podcasts on our homepage on Tidal Basin Group dot com. 

(39:06 – 39:18) 

And you can also find us on your favorite podcast provider. Finally, share these segments with your colleagues and others. And don’t forget to follow us on LinkedIn and on Facebook so you can keep updated when we post future episodes. 

(39:18 – 39:33) 

Stay safe and keep an eye on the sky. You’ve been listening to Disaster Recovery Roundtable, a platform to explore, engage and educate. For more information on this episode, visit our podcast page at Tidal Basin Group dot com. 

(39:33 – 39:44) 

You can download previous podcasts, learn more about the programs we discussed and suggest a topic for a future episode. You can also find us on your favorite podcast provider. This has been a Tidal Basin production. 

(39:45 – 39:46) 

Thanks for listening.