Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

March 28, 2014

Cherokee County storm spotters are getting 'ready to go'

TAHLEQUAH — There’s a hint of a typical Oklahoma spring on the horizon, with forecasts calling for the chance of thunderstorms over the next few days.

It’s no surprise to Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management Director Gary Dotson that the chance of severe weather falls days after chilly temperatures and wintry precipitation.

“It sleeted Wednesday when we were out setting up new storm sirens,” Dotson said. “It’s Oklahoma. They’re saying it may be a stormy season because of the way it’s all been playing out.”

Tahlequah Public Works Authority helped install two new sirens this week – one at Heritage Elementary School, and one near Felts Park.

“We’re preparing for the worst, getting the sirens up,” said Dotson. “We brought a company in and did a study. We thought we were going to need three sirens, but found out we only need two. They told us our problem was we were getting the sirens too high, and we were shooting over the low spots.”

Emergency Management volunteers also spent a day last weekend preparing equipment for storm season.

“Fifteen people went through every piece of equipment we have,” said Dotson. “We started everything up, checked it, filled everything with fuel, and got our generators out and going. We’re trying to get prepared and ready to go.”

Dotson said the county’s 21 storm-spotters have been trained by the National Weather Service and have met twice while preparing for spring weather.

According to Dotson, the city will sound its storm sirens as soon as confirmation is made that a tornado warning has been issued and the threat is heading toward the city.

“If it’s not heading toward Tahlequah, we won’t sound them,” Dotson said. “We base our decision off of the National Weather Service and our weather-spotters, if they see something. If we blew it every time the TV said we had one, we’d never turn the sirens off.”

But Dotson also urges common sense during severe storms. If a threat seems imminent based on TV, radio or other weather reports, take cover without hesitation.

“Try to get out of trailer homes and vehicles,” said Dotson. “If you’re traveling in a vehicle and get caught in a tornadic storm, find the lowest ditch you can and get face-down. Cover your head to try to protect yourself from debris.”

When inside a home or other structure, “put as many walls between you and the southwest corner as you can,” he said.

“The best theory is still if you don’t have time to seek other shelter, get into the center room of your house, get into a bathtub and cover yourself with a mattress,” said Dotson. “Take a portable radio with you.”

Dotson said the local EM office would like to have a GPS location of residents’ storm rooms or shelters on file. In the case of an unfortunate weather event, emergency responders could use the information to help locate shelters.

“If we know you’ve got a shelter, that’s the first place we’re going to look, but if we don’t know where your shelter is, it’s sometimes hard to tell,” he said.

Those who live within the Tahlequah city limits can also sign up with the Blackboard notification system, available at www.cityoftahlequah.com.

If a radio is available, locals can tune to 102.1 for live weather broadcasts from the Emergency Operations Center. Dotson said reports are typically based off of reports from weather spotters in the county.

Those with police scanners can program in frequency 154.220 to listen live to storm spotters as they keep an eye on the weather. Spotters are put on standby when the area is placed under a storm watch, and are activated when a warning is issued in Cherokee County or a neighboring county.


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