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'Can't we get a break?' Oklahoma on tornado alert again

May 30, 2013|By Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Hailey Branson-Potts and Matt Pearce

HOUSTON -- Tornado warning sirens were sounding again in central Oklahoma on Thursday, prompting residents and those aiding recovery efforts from the deadly twister in Moore to seek shelter and hope that this time, they would be spared.

A little more than a week after a monster tornado struck the suburb south of Oklahoma City, killing 24 and causing $2 billion in damage, sirens sounded to the north in Guthrie, home to more than 10,000.

Officials were also watching a severe thunderstorm approaching the Tulsa area late Thursday.

There were also tornado warnings Thursday in parts of Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Wisconsin, with tornado watches extending through eight states from Texas to Michigan and Minnesota

Officials with Logan County Emergency Management told The Times that they were coping with an influx of calls as the sirens sounded.

“They see rotating clouds, but so far nothing has come down to the ground. The word we’ve been getting from the emergency managers up there is people are freaking out with this entire system that’s been coming through over the last few days,” said Mark Wiley, a meteorologist at the National Weather Center regional operations center in Fort Worth, Texas.

"It's like, come on, can't we get a break?" said Noah Hill, whose home was so badly damaged in the Moore disaster that it has to be demolished. "We're just ready for it to move out for a few days."

He and his family where watching the weather reports on television in their hotel room. If the storm gets too close on Thursday, he will take his wife and two sons to a nearby hospital, which has a basement.

Wiley said the storms stem from a cold front moving east across the state.

“There’s a line that’s moving across north central and northeast Oklahoma, and right now there’s two tornado warnings and three severe weather warnings that are in effect along that line,” Wiley said.

Greg Carbin, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service storm prediction center in Norman, Okla., said the service had issued “a scattering of tornado warnings” with no major confirmed tornado sightings yet, although there had been some minor sightings and false alarms.

Carbin said there was one report of a tornado Thursday afternoon in rural Perkins, Okla., about 55 miles northeast of Oklahoma City. But it was brief and there were no reports of damage.

"Pretty sure it touched down. They say it lasted about 30 seconds," Carbin said.

A tornado watch remains in effect until late Thursday for much of central Oklahoma, he said.

“The configuration the storms are in is one where you can get brief tornadoes, so they may be seeing rotations or brief outbursts,” Carbin said. “There’s a tendency to err on the side of caution.”

“The environment is primed for severe weather to continue through the evening basically from Oklahoma to Wisconsin,” Carbin told The Times, with a strong possibility of tornadoes touching down.

“It’s just a matter of when they decide to do so, so we’re going to have to keep our guard up tonight,” he said — especially in the Moore area.

Carbin said a strong thunderstorm was headed toward Moore on Thursday. Although forecasters did not expect any tornado activity, they were still cautioning residents that the storm could bring winds of 60 to 70 mph and golf ball-size hail.

The Salvation Army was among several disaster response groups that suspended operations in light of the tornado warnings, temporarily closing disaster relief centers in Moore and Oklahoma City and ordering about 75 staff members in the area to seek shelter, according to incident commander Tom Louden.

Louden, who is based in Fort Myers, Fla, but was in Oklahoma City on Thursday, said he was watching dark storm clouds approach from the southeast, and following reports of potential tornado sightings.

“It’s creating a lot of anxiety. We’ve had a lot of false alarms,” Louden told The Times, including sightings of possible tornadoes to the west in Anadarko and funnel clouds in nearby Chickasha.

His biggest concern was the storm headed for Moore, where he was forced to suspend services until Friday. The Salvation Army fed more than 330 people there Wednesday, he said, and had been serving an average 300 people daily, distributing recovery supplies and helping people store belongings.

He said the latest storm “continues to delay the victims from preparing their homes to be repaired or demolished so they can be rebuilt.”

The sound of the sirens comes just as many victims of the Moore tornado were starting to cope with the reality of recovery, Louden said.

“It takes them right back to that raw place,” he said.

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