Do You Believe The Mountains Protect From Bad Weather?
Last weekend we were warned about the chance of severe weather. We were told to prepare, it was a good moment to remind people about necessities, and all day Saturday it really looked like it was going to storm something fierce across SWOK... but it didn't. At least, it didn't here, in and around Lawton. In talking with an acquaintance about it after the fact, I suddenly realized how much I hear "Well, the mountains prevent tornadoes from hitting Lawton." I'll be honest with you, while I'm heavily skeptical about such a statement, it's not a crazy or illogical thought.
I admit, I'm a bit of a weather nerd. I want to say I took an interest to it when Twister released to theaters. They had stayed in my hometown as a base of operations while shooting so the topic was all-encompassing the daily life there for a few months. All the same, I didn't really start paying serious attention to the weather until it became part of my job in radio. Chasing storms and relaying relevant information via the giant cell phones we used to have. It just sort of stuck to me I suppose.
Oddly enough, there's a major river that borders my hometown, and when the topic of tornadoes and such pop into a discussion up there, I've heard numerous people say "Well, the river prevents tornadoes from hitting town." So is it an old wives tale or an odd meteorological occurrence? While I want to be clear that I'm no weather expert, I'd instinctively guess it's a bit of both.
Every scientific weather paper on the subject of mountains and weather all include one discerning peer-reviewed fact... Mountain ranges to have an effect on the weather. In fact, mountains ranges are one of the reasons that the plains states are so volatile. Dry cold air comes sweeping off the high elevations of the extended Rocky Mountains, and when it hits the warm, humid air traveling into the plains from the Gulf of Mexico, atmospheric fireworks happen. That's not to say without the mountains we'd all have great weather, but it'd be fair to say the severe weather would just probably happen somewhere else in the country.
If you think tornadoes don't happen in the mountains, I've heard that before, it's just not true. When conditions are ideal, twisters pop down anywhere regardless of topography. There are several tornadoes observed in our short history of touchdowns in the mountainous regions of America. There's one on record observed that traveled 10,000 feet up a mountain until that cold air stabilized the tumultuous storm. Our Wichita's aren't that tall, and if you're memory is good enough, there's been several tornadic events through the mountains in just the past few years.
So, do the mountains protect Lawton from tornadoes? No. Lawton's had a few come sweeping through in our history, just not in the last couple of decades. The mountains haven't grown taller to have more influence on the weather or anything, we've just been incredibly lucky. The fact that we're such a small dot on the map and surrounded by rural farmland makes the impact of those events just so small to us within city limits. Unfortunately, for those who do find themselves in the path of a storm aren't so lucky. Was it two years ago we had a rash of tornadoes between Lawton and the Southern border? Tipton, Geronimo, Devol, Cookietown, Temple and probably a few more communities I've forgotten have had to take shelter in the last few tornado seasons. Other places like Apache, Fletcher, Cyril and Elgin all took on incredible winds and enormous back to back hail storms in recent memory. Those are storms that had to traverse the mountains to drop their naturally destructive payloads.
So, do the mountains prevent severe weather? No... but they probably have a little, most likely very little influence one way or the other.
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