State Braces For Possible Nighttime Tornadoes

Friday, February 23rd 2007, 5:00 pm

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) A vigorous storm system may have spawned a tornado in northwestern Oklahoma Friday night.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Woodward County around 9 p.m. after storm spotters saw power-line flashes near Woodward. There were no reports of injury or damage as the storm continued racing off to the northeast.

Meanwhile, a tornado watch for western Oklahoma, Kansas and north Texas has been extended to cover much of west-central and central Oklahoma until 6 a.m. Saturday.

After a weeklong warm-up that followed a string of ice storms, the severe weather was expected as strong southerly winds brought in moisture from the Gulf of Mexico to mix with a cold front moving in from the west.

"We're looking for good chances of severe thunderstorms, with an outside chance of some tornadoes," said forecaster Daryl Williams with the National Weather Service's Norman office.

Williams encouraged residents to take precautions for the storm. Among recommended preparations are a disaster supply kit including water, canned food and a battery-powered radio and flashlight. In case of a tornado, officials recommend taking shelter in a closet or small interior room without windows generally on the lowest floor to the ground.

"We're hoping that this won't be a tornado event, but there's no way to rule it out at this time," Williams said.

Tornadoes are uncommon in Oklahoma in February. The peak period for severe weather in the state is from mid-March to mid-June, Williams said, with another, more brief period in early fall. Some of the most damaging tornadoes in recent years came in early May in 1999 and 2003.

Oklahoma most recently recorded a February tornado in 2000, when a twister hit Ellis and Harper counties on Feb. 24, damaging a hog barn and downing power lines. The storm was rated F1 at its strongest. It was the only time in the last 15 years that a tornado hit the state in February, according to National Weather Service storm reports.

"We've had tornadoes in Oklahoma all months of the year, but our traditional season doesn't really start until the middle of March," Williams said. "It is a little early, but it's not unheard of."

Williams said the storm was more likely to bring hail and damaging straight-line winds -- both more common at this time of year than tornadoes.

"The trouble is when you have a severe thunderstorm, they can turn into a tornado quite rapidly and if you don't warn people ahead of time, it's a little late to do any good," Williams said. "That's why they err on the side of caution with the tornadoes."

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