Storm Week: Scary Lesson - KAUZ-TV: Newschannel 6 Now | Wichita Falls, TX

Storm Week: Scary Lesson

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There are few things more frightening than knowing a tornado has touched down near your home. That fear is doubled when you're separated from your family. You may be at home, but your kids are in school. Tornadoes, especially violent tornadoes, are very rare events. Tornadoes hitting schools are infinitely more rare, but we here in Texoma have seen it happen. 

35 years ago, on what Texomans call "Terrible Tuesday," McNeil Junior High was virtually destroyed, and other campuses damaged by the massive Wichita Falls tornado. Fortunately, it was spring break, and those schools were empty. It was a different, more tragic, story last May in Moore, Oklahoma when two elementary schools took direct hits from a violent tornado, and the lives of seven students were lost. Seven lives too many. 

Now we begin the 2014 tornado season with this imagery fresh on the minds of Texomans and the worry that comes with our next stormy day.

Skywarn 6 Meteorologist John Cameron set out to get answers from the people who call the shots when it comes to school safety. He also spoke with Rick Smith, a veteran meteorologist with the National Weather Service, whose office is just minutes from the site where Plaza Towers Elementary School once stood, and the lives of hundreds of students, teachers and parents were forever changed.

"They'll never look at thunderstorms the same, it will never be the same for them. It's going to be a rough spring for a lot of people," said Smith, "There had only been two other occasions where tornadoes had struck school in Oklahoma, while they were in session. and, that's going back all the way into the early 1900s."

Even though the chance of a tornado striking a local school is very low, how can the parents and grandparents of students be assured their kids are safe during severe thunderstorms? 

Mark Davis, Assistant Principal for Wichita Falls Burgess Elementary School said, "when someone asks 'Mark how many kids you have?' I say 470.You know, they're my kids they're our staff's kids. We're one big family, and we'll assure they're safe." Davis said they are confident the safety plan is sound and his staff is trained and ready for any threat. "I can assure you we do all that we can to make sure that we have plenty of safeguards in place, an are trained by district officials to make the environment as safe as possible."

Students in the Wichita Falls I.S.D. are required to do at least four tornado drills during the school year. This year, the district's safety officer, Bill Horton, has gone through each campus, identified safe areas like this and placed highly visible decals next to shelter areas. Horton said, "...at home a child probably doesn't know where the safe room's at or where to go. So, we feel they're probably safer here at school then they are at home."

John Cameron, Skywarn 6 Weather