Welcome to Comanche County, Oklahoma. Lawton, the county seat and fifth-largest city in the state, is located approximately 90 miles southwest of Oklahoma City and has a population of approximately 100,000. This Great Plains city sits south of the Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, 59,000 acres of grasslands providing a natural habitat for bison, deer and elk. It is home to Fort Sill, which provides jobs and an economic boost to the community. Lawton is the distribution center for cattle, dairy and agriculture, as well as manufacturing and processing plants.
Comanche County encompasses more than 1,000 square miles and consists of prairie lands with gently rolling hills and few trees. It is surrounded by Kiona, Tillman, Cotton and Caddo counties with the Wichita Mountains to the north. There are more than 124,000 people living in the county with the bulk of the population residing in Lawton.
Living in Comanche County and Lawton means access to shopping and recreation, as well as education and medical services. Residents can enjoy a small-town atmosphere while still experiencing cultural diversity and modern conveniences. There are museums, festivals and annual events to enjoy, as well as parks, recreational areas and three major lakes. And Oklahoma City is less than two hours away, affording the "big city lights" to those who crave it.
Lawton was founded in 1901 and was named after Major General Henry Ware Lawton, who was awarded the Medal of Honor in the Civil War and killed in action in the Philippine-American war. The town site was located south of Fort Sill, which had been set up as a cavalry post in 1869. Major General Philip Sheridan established the post while leading a campaign in Indian Territory to stop raids by Native American tribes. Fort Sill remains the only active Army installation of all the forts built during the Indian Wars.
The area was originally settled by prehistoric Native Americans, and the town was built on former reservation lands belonging to the Kiowa, Comanche and Apache Indians. Oklahoma was under control of the French for most of the 18th century, until the Louisiana Purchase. The government was given control of more than 2,000,000 acres of Indian land in 1901, which included the Lawton area. Lots within the 320-acre town site were auctioned off, and Lawton quickly became a tent city.
Lawton's early days were problematic. There was no municipal government at first, and the town consisted of about 25,000 people living in tents. There were no streets, sidewalks or utilities. Water was inadequate, and schools were minimal and overcrowded. Multiple endeavors for revenue failed, from a railroad line linking the area to eastern trade that didn't happen, mining claims that didn't produce gold, and oil drillings that proved shallow. By 1910 the population had dwindled to 8,000 and the economy seemed to be at a standstill. The installation of a Field Artillery School at Fort Sill in 1911 brought a much-needed boost to the area, and by 1950 the population had grown to more than 35,000. By 1990 that number had reached 80,000 as Fort Sill and Lawton both worked to build a strong military community.
Beautification and renewal projects in the 1970s helped modernize downtown Lawton, with the building of a shopping mall and demolition of several older buildings. In 1998 the city expanded again when Lawton annexed Fort Sill, and with the base realignment and closures of 2005 Fort Sill added more residents to the population. Lawton and Fort Sill continue to partner in endeavors towards economic development and continued growth is expected.
Weather and Climate
Temperatures in Comanche County tend to be dry and subtropical. The average temperature is 61.9 degrees with hot summers that can hit upwards of 100 degrees and mild winters that can sometimes get very cold. There is about 31 inches of precipitation each year and less than three inches of snow. Living in Lawton and Comanche County means being right in the middle of the area known as "Tornado Alley." The area is prone to severe weather from late April through early June. Tornadoes are likely when warm moist air meets cooler, drier air. Being in the midst of such major storm action means that tornadoes can and do happen here, so planning and preparation is important.
Preparing for an Approaching Storm
Listen to weather forecasts and plan ahead. Note the difference between a severe thunderstorm watch — it means one could be on the way or that conditions for it are probable — and a severe thunderstorm warning — it's here, take cover. Same with a tornado watch, conditions favor tornado formation, and warning, a funnel cloud has been sighted, find shelter now.
If you lose power, use flashlights. Do not use candles or kerosene lamps. They can create a fatal safety hazard.
Have a battery-powered radio or TV to listen for changes in weather conditions so you know what to do next.
For a tornado warning, you need to know the safest indoor space in your house, most likely a basement, if you have one, or a central room without windows, if you have no basement.
Make provisions for special needs of any family member such as the elderly, handicapped, medically affected or infants. If you are dependent on electric-powered medical equipment, seek alternate arrangements in the event that your electric service is interrupted.
Keep the following items on hand:
Manual can opener
Battery-operated or wind-up clock
Nonperishable food (canned and dried food)
Make a list of emergency phone numbers and keep a personal telephone book and one corded phone on hand (cordless and cell phones may not work)
Keep a first aid kit in your home and one in your car.
Don't forget to include:
Rubbing alcohol and/or hydrogen peroxide
One gallon of bottled water available for each person in the household for each anticipated day without electric service.
If your home is served by well water, fill a bathtub with water for sanitation use.
Keep cash on hand.
Protect Your Food
To protect your food, keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. Food will stay frozen for 36 hours or more in a fully loaded freezer if you keep the door closed. A half-full freezer will generally keep food frozen for 24 hours. Consider freezing containers of water ahead of time. The blocks of ice will help keep your food frozen longer.
During a Summer Power Outage
Close all drapes and blinds on the sunny side of your home.
Drink plenty of fluids.
Take your family and pets to a cool basement location. Or consider going to an air-conditioned public place during warmer daytime hours. However, if weather conditions are at the warning stage, stay where you are.
During a Winter Power Outage
Gather in a central room with an alternate heat source like a fireplace, but be sure to keep a screen around an open flame. And don't close the fireplace damper while the ashes are still hot. In daytime, open drapes and blinds to let in any available sun to warm the space. Close them at night to minimize heat loss. If the indoor temperature drops below 55 degrees Fahrenheit, open faucets slightly so they constantly drip, thereby preventing pipes from freezing.
Important Heating Safety Tips
A fuel-burning heater, such as kerosene, requires proper ventilation to prevent buildup of harmful fumes. Place these heaters on a hard, non-combustible surface.
Never leave children or pets alone with a portable heater when it's in use.
Never use a gas range for room heating.
Never use charcoal as an indoor heating or cooking source.
Follow these simple guidelines for safe use of your home generator:
Turn off the main circuit breaker to avoid injuring repair crews as they attempt to restore power
If you use a generator during an outage, carefully follow the manufacturer's instruction.
If your generator is to be hooked directly into your home's electrical system, be sure to use a licensed electrician to do the work.
Important Measures to Take for Tornadoes
Take a few minutes with your family to develop a tornado emergency plan. Sketch a floor plan of where you live or walk through each room and discuss where and how to seek shelter.
Identify a second way to exit from each room or area. If you need special equipment, such as a rope ladder, mark where it is located.
Make sure everyone understands the siren warning system, if there's such a system in your area.
Mark where your first aid kit and fire extinguishers are located.
Mark where the utility switches or valves are located so they can be turned off, if time permits, in an emergency.
Teach your family how to administer basic first aid, how to use a fire extinguisher and how and when to turn off water, gas and electricity in your home.
Learn the emergency dismissal policy for your child's school.
Make sure your children know:
What a tornado is.
What tornado watches and warnings are.
What county they live in (warnings are issued by county).
How to take shelter, whether at home or at school.
What To Do About Pets During Tornadoes
Make an emergency plan to keep pets safe during tornadoes. Find a kennel or crate for every animal you have and keep all the crates together in an easy-access location in your home.
Choose the safest room in the house for surviving a tornado.
Make an emergency food supply to keep on hand for pets, including canned foods and extra water. Pack a collar and leash for each dog and cat.
When a Tornado Siren Sounds or a Tornado Warning is Issued
Put all pets in cages or carriers and in the safe room when the tornado watch is issued.
Get all people to the safe room as soon as a tornado warning is issued or a siren is sounded.
Stay in the safe room for several minutes after the storm. Large tornadoes have a central eye, so more destruction could be coming. After several minutes of silence, carefully open the safe room door.
Leash all pets when outside after a tornado. Power lines could be down, and dangerous objects will be littered everywhere.
Tips & Warnings
Practice the emergency weather plan before bad weather strikes. Get pets used to kenneling or being caged during storms.
There are only seconds to act before a tornado strikes, so don't wait to put pets in carriers. Do it instantly and get them and your family in the safe room.
Extra Measures for People with Special Needs
Write down your specific needs, limitations, capabilities and medications. Keep this list near you always, such as in your purse or wallet.
Find someone nearby (a spouse, roommate, friend, neighbor, relative or co-worker) who will agree to assist you in case of an emergency. Give him or her a copy of your list. You may also want to provide a spare key to your home or directions to find a key.