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June 10, 2014

Quiet twister season gives Oklahomans a welcome respite

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gayland Kitch isn’t quite ready to exhale but so far he’s relieved by what Mother Nature has brought — or, more accurately, hasn’t brought.

An especially slow tornado season is a welcome one for Kitch, Moore’s emergency management director, and the community he serves. Last year’s devastating EF-5 tornado in Moore killed two-dozen people, including seven school children, and caused nearly $2 billion in damages.

“People have been pretty anxious, so I’m glad we’ve had a slow year,” Kitch said. “The memory is too fresh.”

With a week left in Oklahoma’s peak tornado season, which many meteorologists consider to be March 15 through June 15, the state has only recorded seven tornadoes.

“If this number holds, this will be the lowest number since reliable records were kept in 1950,” said Forrest Mitchell, observations program leader with the National Weather Service in Norman. “We are certainly off to a good start of having a record minimum of tornadoes in Oklahoma, which is very welcome news.”

The only tornado-related fatality of the year thus far happened in the town of Quapaw in April. A 68-year-old Kansas man died after a concrete wall fell on his vehicle. The same storm damaged about 60 homes.

On average, Oklahomans usually see 46 tornadoes a year during peak season, Mitchell said. In the course of an entire year, the state averages 54.

If Oklahoma makes it through the end of the year without picking up any new twisters, 2014 will set the new minimum, which is now the 17 twisters recorded in 1988.

Mitchell said this year has been quiet for several reasons including less precipitation, the colder Oklahoma winter and the fact that temperatures in March were colder than usual.

More precipitation is due to arrive midweek, before the end of the peak tornado season, though it’s not expected to be severe.

But Oklahoma isn’t out of the woods yet.

In past years, the state has experienced an uptick of tornadic activity as cold fronts sweep through in October, but the number of fall twisters typically isn’t as pronounced. The most tornadoes ever recorded in Oklahoma in October was 27 in 1998.

“We’ve had quiet years before, (but) this is the quietest so far,” Mitchell said. “Hopefully it will remain so. Hopefully Mother Nature won’t decide to play catch-up with us.”

Kitch said the lull in severe weather has been good for his community, which sorely needs time to rebuild.

But he said he’s not ready to relax.

“The season isn’t over yet,” he said. “All it takes is one system to change it. But we’re always ready.”

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