NORMAN, Okla. (AP) _ This is the season meteorologists at the National Weather Service's forecast office train for all year.
Tornado season is approaching in Oklahoma, the nation's epicenter of severe weather.
``If you look at a map of the United States, there's a bull's-eye right on us,'' said Rick Smith, a warning coordination meteorologist.
About 1,000 of the 10,000 or so severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings issued across the country each year come from Norman.
The office received the Commerce Department's highest honor in 1999 for its forecasting during the devastating rash of tornadoes that struck Oklahoma and Kansas on May 3, 1999.
The national average for issuing warnings before tornadoes hit is 11 minutes, said Michael Foster, meteorologist in charge of the Norman forecast office. Norman forecasters generally warn the public 16 minutes before a tornado touches ground.
Smith is traveling a lot lately, trying to train storm spotters and educate the public about tornado safety before the season really starts.
``People in Oklahoma are more prepared than people in other parts of the United States just because they have to deal with it so frequently,'' he said.
``We don't want people waiting until they see the warning on television, or hear the siren at two o'clock in the morning, to go dig up that brochure they got at a storm spotter class.''
Smith urges people to practice their tornado safety plan. If there's no shelter available, pick a safe spot inside the house.
``The key is to find a small, interior room that puts as many walls between you and the outside as possible,'' he said.
Smith also urges people to buy NOAA Weather Radios, which are specialized devices that automatically activate with information when forecasters issue warnings for specific areas.
In Oklahoma, tornadoes are most likely to occur in April, May and June. After a summer reprieve, a second storm season brings more severe thunderstorms and tornadoes in October.
Researchers have charted the history of tornadoes in Oklahoma and determined the date when they occur most frequently.
That day is May 3.