There are many local media channels, university atmospheric research teams, SkyWarn spotters, Spotternet spotters, law enforcement spotters, tornado tour groups, and even casual weather observers that watch tornadoes. This is risky folks!
Here are a few thoughts, and ‘no advice’ is given, as each severe weather situation is different, weather changes, and so do tornadoes. The Moore EF5 tornado changed rapidly and went from a relatively small stove pipe stage through major wedge genesis, and became a nearly 2 mile wide violent wedge tornado in just minutes! Also, statistically, floods and lightning together kill more people each year than do tornadoes, so remember that stuff too.
Okay if a tornado is tracking north east it is ‘generally safer’ to view it, if you are southwest as the tornado moves away from your position. Why do I say ‘generally’ because tornadoes form in atmospheric conditions that can spawn multiple tornadoes, and usually there are more than one tornado that form into a swarm. Tornadic storms can be cyclic, and a single mesocyclone can spawn more than one tornado, and tornadic cells can also ‘back build’ over your formerly safe position with new updrafts, and new tornadic cells can form behind your ‘once safe’ position and move over your direction while you think you are safe watching another tornado, presumably to the northeast. I also say southwest is ‘generally better,’ but tornadoes including the Moore EF5, can change directions suddenly, and track in an unpredictable course, so be aware, and have a very wide margin of road options for safety.
One of the best tornado trackers I know stays a very long way away from a tornado, and films from a distance using zoom lenses and filters to get good shots. He also gets some of the best storm structure shots because he is not so close to such a violent storm. Even tornado research scientists who place instruments northeast of a northeast moving tornado do so well in advance so they can fully evacuate their teams, long before a tornado actually crosses their former path. Taking pictures in the dark in front of a tornado, beyond being terribly risky, is also not optimal filming, as better lighting by the sun is gained after a tornado passes. Also, there is a difference between low precipitation (LP) supercells and high precipitation (HP) supercells. In many cases a LP cell has a good rain free base and may be visible for miles, whereas an ‘HP beast’ may have a tornado or multiple tornadoes wrapped inside rain or hail curtains. Even experience storm trackers avoid rain-wrapped tornadoes, because rain wrapped tornadoes are terribly risky to spot even with the best on-board technology.
Relying on computers to track tornadoes alone is risky, as tornadoes do a fantastic job of destroying power poles and taking down cell phone towers that computers rely upon for updates of actual storm dynamics. Also, the rope stage of tornadoes can be quite far away from the parent maesocyclone that first created the tornado. On-board satellite systems help too, but have satellite systems have delays, and cannot take the place of education, knowledge, experience and real time observations.
If you don’t know what direction a tornado is traveling DO NOT CHASE, and take SkyWarn and Spotter Net classes, or meteorology refreshers. Even better for the casual observer is to piggy back on an experienced chase team or weather channel affiliate by clicking on their chase vehicle using a resource like iMap Weather live stream or TVN, and then safely drink coffee and watch through their experienced eyes and dash cams what they are seeing in near real-time without spending gas and taking unknown risks. There are many complex and advanced strategies that trained professionals take to avoid tornadoes while collecting data.
Many experience storm trackers indicate it is advisable to have three or four ‘good’ road options to evacuate from a tornadic storm. I say ‘good’ because a rain water saturated dirt road can get you stranded, and if for example, you are unluckily northeast of a tornado moving northeast, and you get stuck, or your vehicle fails on such a road, you may become a sitting duck in front of a fast advancing tornado. Also, highways can become majorly congested, almost immediately, when a tornado passes nearby or one crosses over an interstate as people have a tendency to slow down, stop or drive erratically when seeing a tornado. The national weather service (NWS), Scott Blair, developed additional guidance about what to do if a tornado is coming your direction and you are stuck on an interstate. Remember, common sense and keeping relaxed may be one of your greatest assets in violent weather.
Next, if you are in a fixed position such as a home and cannot evacuate in advance of a violent tornado then consider your shelter options. FEMA provides some solid guidance for shelter-in-place options. Reinforced bathrooms or basements are better than open rooms with windows, but one chaser advised me, turn off water and gas mains first, before going below ground, but do this only if you have time, if a tornado is going to hit seek cover immediately. He also said in the south some people take an ax, cell phone, water and food, along with extra batteries below ground when you seek shelter. An ax, hand saw, crow bar and gloves in a basement can come in handy, if debris fills the basement overhead after a tornado passes, and you find you need to clear rubble. He advises, above all, remain calm, if you have some sort of faith get in contact, take care of your family and friends, think about a plan, the next five moves you can make after the storm passes can save your life. If you are in the clear after the storm passes help others (this lessens PTSD), and keep an eye on the sky as well as objective hazards such as broken glass, sharp metal and splinters, natural gas leaks and downed power lines.
Stay calm and be situationally aware. Here is one true fact, but I am not quite sure why, after looking at recent damage, but most people in the path of a tornado do survive somehow. Just do your best to survive, and then lend help if you can, time will take care of the rest.
Lastly, is to reiterate that convective storms evolve quickly, especially tornadoes, and are quite unpredictable. If you are a certified trained spotter, and are in a safe position call-in the tornado, as seconds often count with early warning, especially if a tornado is heading toward a populated area. If you don’t know who to call, when you actually see a tornado touch down, here’s a simple number, call 911. Police get help from certified and trained storm trackers, but remember make sure you are in a safe place, and first take care of yourself. If you are on a road trip through tornado alley, consider taking a survival kit for you and your family, these can be good for other road emergencies. FEMA has good information on the basics, as people survive hurricanes each year.
There are many universities that offer courses in convective meteorology and who take their students on convective weather field trips. This is a good way to go, if you want to have a field experience with some severe weather in a fairly controlled environment.
Only highly trained and equipped professionals track tornadoes. Do not follow any such professional storm trackers, they are on a job to protect the public, provide early warnings, and to obtain data to help advance systems that lead to better warning systems for the general public.
Be safe and good luck! Blessings to the people of Moore, Oklahoma.