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Oklahoma tornadoes: TV stations make extensive plans for tornado coverage

A small farm house still stands after being hit by Tuesday's tornado west of El Reno, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
A small farm house still stands after being hit by Tuesday's tornado west of El Reno, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

Days before the tornadoes formed, Oklahoma City television stations were mapping out their coverage. Tuesday morning, storm chasers and news crews were positioned throughout the state.

Their coverage helped warn residents of the tornadoes, allowing them to take safety precautions.

“Probably the best part of that is that people listened,” KOCO-5 President Brent Hensley said. “People heeded the warnings and many people were off the road when the things were coming through.”

And people watched.

At 5 p.m., during the height of the tornado threat, almost 72 percent of the TV households in the market were tuned to one of four stations that provided weather coverage. According to Nielsen ratings, KFOR-4 received a 25.9, followed by KWTV-9, 24.3; KOCO, 18.8, and KOKH-25, 2.6.

The stations used websites and social media such as Facebook to alert residents. News9.com set a record for traffic, said Rob Krier, vice president and chief operating officer for Griffin Communications.

KFOR, KWTV and KOCO all have large weather staffs, headed by experienced meteorologists, and use helicopters for aerial coverage. KOKH has a smaller staff, but still provided extensive coverage.

Tuesday, KWTV-9 employed nine storm chasers, KOCO-5 seven and KOKH-25 three, the stations said. KOKH has an agreement with IMap to provide storm chasing video. KFOR declined to divulge the number of employees from its 35-person contingent Tuesday that were used for storm chasing.

Technology praised

After being alerted last Friday to the tornado threat, Hensley said his station made extensive plans early in the week.

“We were talking about this storm three or four days ago,” Hensley said. “Technology allows us to do that now.”

Krier said KWTV chief meteorologist Gary England issued a “priority one” early in the week, gathering all storm chasers and meteorologists for a meeting.

“He (England) tries to position the crews where he thinks the storms will form,” Krier said. “They've got to get them out west before they form because you can't send anyone out there once that line starts. We have to be on the other side and follow it in.”

The TV stations had to decide whether to stick with storm coverage throughout the evening or return to network programming. KOKH returned with the next-to-last “American Idol” episode at 7 p.m. and KOCO showed the “Dancing With the Stars” finale at 8 p.m. Both stations provided weather coverage during commercial breaks.

Related Photos
<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-a4d42b380f74a6d6b95906236b6308c3.jpg" alt="Photo - " title=""><figcaption></figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-8f4c9050cc3b71cf256b6ef718267abd.jpg" alt="Photo - A small farm house still stands after being hit by Tuesday's tornado west of El Reno, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD" title="A small farm house still stands after being hit by Tuesday's tornado west of El Reno, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD"><figcaption>A small farm house still stands after being hit by Tuesday's tornado west of El Reno, Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Photo by Chris Landsberger, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD</figcaption></figure>
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