• Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jennifer Seidl
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing
It's a grey, rainy day of thunderstorms, and just as the wind dies down and it seems like the storm is over... you hear something like a train, and the alarms sounding.


For many who are new to the Altus area, tornados are a frightening, unknown, force of nature. For many who have been here for years, or even all their lives, tornados remain so.

"Oklahoma is located in the region known as 'Tornado Alley', the most active tornado region of the world. Topography and the influx of warm Gulf of Mexico moisture frequently interacts with colder air masses coming from Canada creating the perfect situation for severe thunderstorms and tornadoes," said Captain Jennifer Shields, 97th Operations Support Squadron weather flight commander.

Tornados were reported in South Dakota, Missouri, and in Oklahoma City in early May. The Oklahoma City tornados were measured as F3 on the Fujita scale. The Fujita scale, developed in 1971 by T. Theodore Fujita at the University of Chicago, uses wind speed estimates and the typical damage caused by a tornado to assign a rating from F0 to F5.

"Altus typically experiences tornadoes between F0 and F3 using the Fujita scale. The last occurrence of an F3 at Altus AFB was May 11, 1982," said Shields.

F0 tornados cause only light damage, such as broken tree branches, and some repairable damage to buildings. F3 tornados cause severe damage; tearing off roofs, overturning cars and uprooting trees.

Tornado season is typically April through July, with May being the peak month in Oklahoma. Altus Air Force Base has warning systems in place in the event of a tornado. Captain Shields reports the base has the Giant Voice, cable audio over-ride (for on-base Cable One customers), alert radios, and computer notification for computers on the base network.

If you should hear a tornado warning sound, or if you think you hear a tornado with no alarm sounding, do not hesitate.

"Follow the instructions. If directed to take cover, do so immediately and stay in shelter until directed," said Shields.

Danger signs for tornados include dark, often greenish sky, large hail, a large, dark, low-lying cloud (particularly if rotating), and a loud roar, similar to a freight train.

"When conditions are favorable for tornado formation, it remains until the weather has passed." said Shields, warning that more than one tornado can occur in the area. It is vital to stay in shelter until the all clear sounds via the same systems that sound the warning.

If you are in a building or other sturdy shelter, go to a pre-designated shelter area such as a safe room, basement, storm cellar, or the lowest building level. Consider pre-staging supplies of food, water, first aid materials, and other survival equipment in your home shelter-in-place. Think about who will use your home shelter, and what you might need. If there is no basement, go to the center of an interior room on the lowest level (closet, interior hallway) away from corners, windows, doors, and outside walls. Put as many walls as possible between you and the outside. Get under a sturdy table and use your arms to protect your head and neck. Do not open windows.

If you are in a vehicle, mobile home, or trailer, get out immediately and go to the lowest floor of a sturdy, nearby building or a storm shelter. Mobile homes, even if tied down, offer little protection from tornadoes.

If you are outside and hear or see a tornado approaching, lie flat in a nearby ditch or depression and cover your head with your hands. Be aware of the potential for flooding. Do not get under an overpass or bridge. You are safer in a low, flat location. Never try to outrun a tornado in urban or congested areas in a car or truck. Instead, leave the vehicle immediately for safe shelter. Watch out for flying debris. Flying debris from tornadoes causes most fatalities and injuries.

Most importantly, as in all emergency or crisis situations, do not panic. Create a plan with your family that includes how you will contact each other in these situations, have a backup plan, and practice your plans.

After a tornado, safety is a primary issue, as are mental and physical well-being. Be alert to buildings that may be unsafe. Listen for instructions and information through the base alert and warning systems, local radio stations (AM1450), 481-NEWS (6397), the Altus AFB public website ( and the 97 AMW Facebook page.

For more information about the hazards and habits of tornados, look online at