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Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management Director Gary Dotson monitors local weather conditions on new equipment purchased with grant funding for the Emergency Operations Center. Photo by Bob Gibbins

Although Cherokee County had a foot of snow on the ground less than 10 days ago, emergency management personnel are now turning their thoughts to another form of severe weather.

Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management Director Gary Dotson said a tornado can drop from the sky at any time of the year, but the spring and summer months are traditionally when the risk of tornadoes increases.

That’s why thunderstorms and tornadoes become the focus of local residents starting in early April.

“There are some simple tips people can follow to help them stay safe when a severe storm threatens the area,” he said. “One of the most important is to refrain from going out and trying to see the storm.”

Dotson said local residents need to stay indoors when warnings are issued, unless they’re trained spotters. If they live in a mobile home, they should vacate their residence if they can do so safely.

“If you’re at home, the best place is in a bathroom or as close to the center of the house as possible,” Dotson said. “Stay away from windows and doors.”

Dotson advises people to stay on the ground floor of a building that has multiple levels.

NSU has a shelter area in its University Center. Residents in the Hulbert area can seek shelter at the Lake Region Electric Cooperative offices.

“The EOC [Emergency Operations Center] is not a public shelter,” Dotson said. “Spotters and other emergency management personnel, as well as other agencies, will be using the EOC.”

AAA has also offered some tornado safety tips for motorists. It recommends leaving your vehicle as soon as possible and seeking shelter. If there are no buildings nearby, you should find a ditch, ravine or low-lying area and lie flat. Stay away from overpasses.

Dotson said the local emergency management team will continue to activate this season, as in years past. When a warning is issued for a bordering county, the EOC will go into service and spotters will move toward the approaching storm.

“Our spotters have years of experience and training,” he said. “They know what to look for and how to position themselves so they can move away from a storm when it gets too close.”

The EOC is equipped with ham radio operators, radar and televisions to keep the staff up to date on warnings for the area. A new piece of equipment will help local EM personnel during this storm season.

The computer program allows wind speed and direction, barometric pressure and other weather data to be tracked over a period of several days to help forecast severe weather. Dotson said it can also be used during a storm to warn spotters of potential hazards.

The new equipment was purchased with grant funds, Dotson said.

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