MOORE, Okla. - Sixteen minutes.
That's how much of a warning the residents of suburban Oklahoma had before a tornado dropped out of a cloud onto the ground a few miles west of Newcastle, Okla.
While that may not sound like a long time, it's actually better than average and much better than the average tornado warning lead time of a couple of decades ago.
"The national average for tornado warnings is about 14 minutes," says National Weather Service spokesman Chris Vaccaro. As recently as 1990, the average warning time was a mere five minutes, reports J. Marshall Shepherd, a research meteorologist at the University of Georgia
The warning system for this tornado "worked well," said AccuWeather meteorologist Mike Smith.
Also, while the warning for the tornado was "only" 16 minutes, the tornado didn't hit the center of Moore until about 34-36 minutes later, he adds.
Austin Brock holds a cat named Tutti after the animal was rescued from the rubble of Brock's home after a tornado destroyed the neighborhood May 21 in Moore, Okla.
Additionally, "the area had been warned for days" that severe storms were possible, Shepherd adds, and a tornado "watch" was issued more than two hours before it hit Moore, Smith says.
A tornado watch means that conditions are favorable for tornadoes to develop and "serves as a heads-up to start thinking of what to do and where to go in order to stay safe if a warning is issued," Vaccaro adds.
"If the death toll is really around 25-30, then it is a testament to the warning system," Smith says.
What should you do when you hear there's a tornado warning?
"Once a warning is issued, take immediate action to protect your life," Vaccaro says "Ideally, that is moving below ground or to the interior portion of the lowest floor of a sturdy structure. Then once you're in a safe spot, become a force of nature yourself by calling, texting and using social media to warn others."
The best way to protect yourself is to "put as many walls and layers of protection between you and the tornado as possible," Smith says, adding that getting into a bathtub or the interior of the house is the best.
"Put on a football or motorcycle helmet" to protect your head, says Smith.
The tornado was rated an EF-5, which is the highest level on the Fujita Scale of Tornado Intensity.
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