By Sarah Pridgeon
A tornado that developed northeast of Hulett on Friday travelled over 18 miles to just north of Aladdin. 600 yards wide and with maximum wind speeds at 115-120 miles per hour, the twister uprooted trees, damaged buildings and caused one injury along its path.
“We were watching the storms carefully on the radar, when we noticed the parent thunderstorm began to rotate strongly,” says David Barber, National Weather Service (NWS).
“That’s a pretty good sign that a tornado may be developing.”
The NWS immediately issued a warning, says Barber, seeing that the general atmospheric conditions were right for a tornado. Protocol is then for emergency management to be notified in the affected counties.
“I got the call at about 4:45 p.m.,” says Gari Gill, Fire Warden, who immediately went out to see if he could spot the tornado and to alert the people in its path.
“Our weather spotters were also out. We had a terrible time seeing it from the south, but from the north you could see it was pretty ominous.”
The tornado took the roofs from outbuildings in six different places along its route and threw trees across the road, taking out Powder River Energy’s power lines, says Gill. According to the NWS, a significant number of large Ponderosa Pines were snapped and uprooted along the way.
One mobile home on Kimball Road, seven miles northwest of Aladdin, was completely destroyed by the twister. The owner was inside at the time, says Gill, but suffered only minor injuries.
In Hulett, Fire Chief Jason Perry was watching the tornado develop. Having activated the town’s warning system, he helped a resident reach a safe shelter.
“What I saw in town was kind of disturbing to me – there were people in the streets watching the spinning clouds,” he says.
“I just want to ask everyone to please take cover when the alarm is activated. This tornado barely missed town and, if it would have tracked any farther south, Hulett would have been in the path.”
Next time a tornado is spotted in the vicinity of Hulett, Perry asks that all residents seek safety.
“The Greater Hulett Community Center is the storm shelter, as well as your basements,” he says.
“Please take shelter when you hear those sirens.”
The tornado was a little stronger than most that are seen in this region, says Barber, and was eventually classified as an EF-2 on the Enhanced Fujita Scale, which classifies tornadoes according to six categories ranging from 0 to 5. Though not as strong as the twisters seen in states such as Kansas and Oklahoma, he explains, it also travelled further than tornadoes tend to do in the area.
“It’s not a record, but it did have a long path length,” says Barber. “It was a bit stronger than many out here and also had that significantly longer path length.”
The region is well into the severe weather season, he adds, and last year the severe thunderstorms continued into September. Though it’s impossible to predict whether the storms during this peak time will product another tornado, some of them may have the capacity to do so.
Crook County doesn’t experience tornadoes often, says Gill, but they do seem to be occurring more regularly.
“We’re lucky that it was out in an area that was not very densely populated,” he says.
“If you hear of a watch or a warning, please start getting someplace safe and protecting yourselves immediately.”
What to do when the sirens sound
When the Outdoor Warning Sirens are activated as they were on June 13, says Fire Chief Jason Perry, it’s important that members of the community are aware of what to do next. The sirens are activated when the National Weather Service has spotted a doppler radar-indicated tornado or a trained weather spotter has seen a tornado begin to form.
It’s vital that you take cover immediately upon hearing the sirens, says Perry. It’s not uncommon for there to be very little time between the warning and the arrival of the tornado and the siren indicates that it is not safe to be outdoors.
When you hear the siren, says Perry, seek shelter either in a basement or in an interior room on the bottom floor of a well-built home or building, well away from any windows. If you are unable to find shelter, head for the designated disaster shelter in your town.
Mobile homes and vehicles are not appropriate shelter for a tornado as they may be damaged or destroyed by the winds themselves or flying debris. If all else fails, lie down in the lowest spot you can find, such as a ditch.
Trying to get visual confirmation of the tornado is always a bad idea. The weather may change with no notice and your time will be better spent getting to shelter, says Perry.
If a power outage renders the sirens inoperable, there are still signs that can warn you of a potential tornado event. Watch out for a green or green-black sky; a funnel-shaped or low lying black cloud; swirling dust or debris either falling or being pulled up; hail, thunder or lightning; unusual cloud behavior such as swirling or converging; a drop in temperature; or a sudden calm in the wind with the air becoming eerily still.
You may also “feel” the tornado coming. Your body can sense low air pressure, which is associated with a tornado beginning to form.
Be aware that not all tornadoes have visible funnels. In some cases, they are surrounded by dust or rain and cannot be seen.
You may additionally hear noise associated with the tornado, although not in all cases. The sounds typically made by tornadoes have been described as “whooshing roars” similar to a freight train or whining and buzzing sounds.
The noises made by a tornado do not travel very far. If you can hear a tornado, it is very close to you and you should seek shelter with maximum haste.