In the past few years, most tornado warnings have been issued due to the National Weather Service detecting low to mid-level rotation on their much improved Doppler radar systems. However, occasionally, a warning is generated by a ground truth report from a storm spotter in the field. This past Tuesday’s event in Franklin and Johnson was just one of these rare times.
Initial ground reports came from area storm spotter and ham radio operator Mark Graves, K5OO. Graves was north bound on Hwy 309 between Grayrock and Roseville when he checked into the Franklin/Logan County Skywarn Net which was being controlled by OEM Volunteer/ARES-EC Rick Covert, KD5GSP at the Franklin County Courthouse in Ozark. Graves report was used by Covert to confirm the radar return image he was monitoring. Covert was in already in contact via Chat-room with the Tulsa Office of the National Weather Service. The NWS had already advised Covert that storm was taking on small supercell characteristics. Upon receiving this information at the EOC, Covert informed the local Skywarn Net and responders to observe this cell closely. Immediately after sharing this information, Graves reported observing a rapidly rotating wall cloud with the lowering of a funnel. Concurrently, Covert relayed the ground truth reports and alerted the Dispatch to activate the Altus Tornado Sirens. The Weather Service issued the warning primarily based on the work generated by Graves and Covert.
As this information was being processed by Covert, OEM Coordinator Fred Mullen, KD5MXV was receiving by phone ground truth reports from the Denning area from County Judge Rickey Bowman. Bowman was attending a meeting at the Denning City Hall when he observed rotation in the clouds above the area with movement to the north. At this time, other storm spotters (including OEM personnel Mullen and Melissa Francis, KD5MXW on I-40, and, long time ham radio operator/storm spotter Joe Finely, KA5IFX on Hwy 186 were tracking the storm north-north east. Findley’s reports helped Covert to fine-tune the placement of other spotters to provide the best information to inform responders and the public about potentially impacted areas. At St. Mary’s Mountain, law enforcement officers and fire fighters monitored the developing storm and filed reports to Mullen and the Dispatch Center.
Responders Fred Mullen and Melissa Francis, Franklin County OEM, Randy Boren, FC EMS Director, Greg Tillery with FC Sheriff’s Department, Ozark PD, Kyle Eveld, Altus School Resource Officer, Leon Hall with Altus FD, Jason Parsons with Altus PD observe incoming storms
While this action was being taken in Franklin County, Johnson County OEM Coordinator Josh Johnson, KE5MHV was monitoring the Franklin/Logan County Net and NWS Chatroom. He used that information to develop a warning for their county.
According to OEM Deputy Coordinator Covert, who has 19 years severe weather and emergency communications to Franklin County, “fortunately this tornado touched down in a rural area with mostly fields and trees. However, it is important to remember that due to the efforts of local responders and stormspotters the Warning Notification was generated several minutes earlier that it would have been. Also, we had several resources following it ready to report the location and degree of damage or injuries had they occurred. Law enforcement officers and fire fighters in the area were well positioned to immediately respond to assist the public.”
Mullen added, “this was an excellent example of multi-agency, multi-disciple cooperation to detect, provide notification, monitor and prepare a response to a potentially dangerous situation.”
Franklin County citizens are reminded they can apply for free weather warnings on their phone at www.fcoem.org/code-red. For more information on this program, contact Franklin County OEM SDC Melissa Francis at 479-667-0070.