At the end of May, the National Weather Service (NWS) reported that Oklahomans endured a record-breaking tornado season this year with 95 tornadoes, and numbers are still rising. That’s over double the average total from January through May (41). April’s 2012 record of 54 twisters was broken with 55 this year.  

Tornadoes, violently rotating columns of air touching the ground, usually attach themselves to the base of a thunderstorm. This weather phenomenon, which can happen in any month but is most common in the spring and summer, can propel semi-trucks through the air, flatten structures and create deadly flying debris. One of eight “Tornado Alley” states, Oklahomans see an average of 13 cyclones in April and 37 in May, which are the state’s peak months.

Assessing the Damage

Implemented in 2007, the Enhanced Fujita Scale (EF-Scale) describes the strength of a tornado based on the amount of damage caused. An EF-0 weighs in at light damage (40-72 mph), with an EF-5 packing over 200 mile-per-hour winds.

2024 is the first time in 11 years that two EF-4+ tornadoes touched down in Oklahoma. In fact, it was also 11 years ago that USA Today dubbed Oklahoma as the Tornado Capital of the World, with the most tornadoes per square mile on Earth. 

Apparently, Okies can blame all that cellar (or cramped closet) time on meteorology, timing, topography and geography.

Tornadoes pack a punch on densely populated areas as well as farmland, impacting food production and grocery store prices. To rectify this, the U.S. Department of Agriculture offers disaster assistance programs to farmers and ranchers to help restore crops, land, infrastructure, deal with excess livestock losses and damages, and obtain money for food and grazing losses.

This year, Gov. Kevin Stitt also signed bills to fund statewide rebuilding efforts due to tornado damage. The new laws create a revolving fund to pay for recent and future emergency and disaster rebuilding needs, and went into effect immediately. 

$45 million seeds the relief program, with funding for infrastructure repair, temporary housing and shelter, matching federal relief programs and filling lost revenue gaps. 

A Helping Hand 

The American Red Cross and other nonprofits like it spend millions of dollars annually to help with disaster relief, financing meals, shelter, blankets, cots, emotional support, health services, spiritual care, financial assistance, relief supplies, disaster relief vehicles, warehouse space, staff, volunteer travel and technology expenses. In states hit by this spring’s storms, the Red Cross provided non-stop help to thousands, including launching 70 disaster relief operations and distributing tens of thousands of supplies and ready-to-eat meals in 25+ states. 

On the heels of the deadly late May storms in northeastern Oklahoma, the Red Cross responded quickly. 

“We make it a point to have a shelter open as soon as we can after storms come through, because we know that what people need first is a safe place to stay,” says Matt Trotter, the regional director of the Red Cross serving Kansas and Oklahoma. 

In Claremore alone, the nonprofit helped hundreds, serving 6,500 meals, providing nearly 30 overnight shelter stays and passing out critical relief items.

The Oklahoma Chapter of the American Red Cross offers speedy and comprehensive assistance to victims of severe storms and tornadoes. Photos courtesy the American Red Cross

The Red Cross of Oklahoma’s hundreds of volunteers work alongside other disaster relief specialists, providing help to Oklahoma through its four chapters. Their reunification programs also help people contact and locate loved ones in disaster areas. 

Law enforcement sometimes closes disaster areas such that outsiders cannot enter, so racing in to help isn’t always a smart or safe idea. Instead, anyone may volunteer by applying at, give blood and present financial donations.

The Oklahoma Department of Emergency Management (OEM) maintains the State Emergency Operations Center, which serves as Oklahoma’s command center for reporting emergencies and coordinating response activities. The OEM provides delivery of state and federal aid to those affected by catastrophic events in any Oklahoma location. In the spring, the OEM maintained contact with statewide emergency managers and coordinated efforts with numerous entities including the Red Cross. 

“Coordinated through the OEM, the Oklahoma National Guard (OKNG) provides a wide range of support as needed and requested,” says Col. Shane Riley, director of OKNG’s military support. “Most recently, the OKNG supported the response to tornadoes in Sulfur (EF-3) and Barnsdall with liaison and planning support, as well as search and rescue and heavy equipment operators for warehouse support.”

Oklahoma residents seeking non-emergency disaster or health and human services information may dial 2-1-1, 24-hours a day, or dial 9-1-1 for emergencies only.

Preparing for a Tornado

Preparing for a tornado means planning far in advance. It’s also helpful to know the difference between tornado watches and warnings; the first urges people to stay alert, while the second indicates that a tornado has been spotted in the area and to take cover immediately. Learn about safe shelter locations and what to do if you are caught outside or in your car. 

The OEM suggests an emergency plan and a disaster supply kit containing items including food and water for up to five days, a first aid kit, flashlight and batteries. A battery-operated NOAA Weather Radio with a warning alarm should be part of the information system. 

Go to to learn how to prepare a tornado plan, assemble a disaster supplies kit, and learn what to do before, during and after a tornado.

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