McAlester News-Capital, McAlester, OK

June 1, 2013

Overnight weather sees many warnings and one report of severe damage

By MJ Brickey
Staff Writer

McALESTER — A tornado watch, four tornado warnings , five severe thunderstorms, a flash flood warning were issued Friday night and a flash flood warning is to last until 8 p.m. tonight in Pittsburg County.

No injuries reported in Pittsburg County. The only property damage was reported at the No. 9 Marina off State Highway 9 in northern Pittsburg County, according to McAlester/Pittsburg County Office of Emergency Management Assistant Director Lois Lupardus.

McAlester Dispatcher Sheila Trammell said there were no reports of injury or damage to the McAlester Police Department in association with the storms.

Pittsburg County Sheriff Joel Kerns confirmed a report of damage at the No. 9 Marina and said boaters had called for help when a walkway to their dock became obstructed by sheet metal. He said the metal was from a canopy to the dock that was damaged by storms.

At approximately 8 p.m., it became evident by the rapidly approaching display of lightening and dark clouds from the west of Pittsburg County that the county may see rough weather.

As the storms moved through the area, two tornado warnings were issued by the National Weather Service for McAlester, and two for north and northeast Pittsburg County, according to Trent Myers, director of the OEM for McAlester and Pittsburg county.

Myers kept watch on radars as the storms moved throughout Oklahoma most of the day Thursday and Friday, but elevated his attention when NWS reported tornadoes and wind speeds in the excess of 100 miles per hour flipping vehicles near Oklahoma City on Interstates 35 and 40.

At approximately 9:40 p.m. Friday, a tornado watch was issued by the NWS for Pittsburg County. Pittsburg County storm spotters searched for signs of  severe weather from the highest points in the county, watching for rotation, lowering clouds, funnels, tornadoes, microbursts, high winds, straight-line winds and hail.

Although four tornado warnings were issued by NWS, no storm spotters reported any funnels.

Myers said Thursday that all storm sirens maintained by OEM are in operational order, have been tested and will work in the event of severe weather.

However, he said some Pittsburg County communities maintain their own  sirens, including Kiowa, Haileyville, Hartshorne, Arpelar, Adamson, Crowder, Indianola, Shady Grove and Bugtussle.

The storm safety expert said sirens are only meant to be heard from outside of a home and are among many tools to warn people seek shelter from severe weather. Residents should also keep a weather radio with well-charged batteries nearby to monitor for severe weather watches and — most importantly — warnings, he said.

Myers said the NWS changed its criteria for classifying watches and warnings two years ago.

The criteria NWS now uses for a warning is that hail be 1 inch in diameter or larger and/or that winds be more than 70 miles per hour, he said. Severe weather includes tornadoes, large hail, straight-line winds and microbursts.

Myers said NWS Doppler radar detects storm activity at 8,000 feet above Pittsburg County, which he said means it can tell if conditions are favorable or likely but cannot detect tornadoes, hail, straight-line winds or microbursts.

In Pittsburg County, he said the NWS usually relies on the eyes of storm spotters for severe weather warnings.

However, Friday night, tornado warnings were issued without eyewitness reports from Pittsburg County storm spotters. The NWS issued the warning based on upper level activity seen on Doppler radar in Tulsa. Television weather coverage reported debris clouds seen on their Doppler radar from Tulsa.

Myers also said local authorities and emergency workers report any storm damage they see, but if damage happens to a home or other property, it should be reported to the OEM at any time at 918-423-5655.

Contact MJ Brickey by email at mjbrickey@journalist.com.