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Oklahoma breaks record for number of tornadoes with 146 in a year

Oklahoma has set a record for the most tornadoes in a year, the National Weather Service said.

There have now been 146 confirmed tornadoes in 2019, breaking the record of 145 set in 1999, the weather service office in Norman said on its Facebook page on Wednesday.

Six tornadoes were confirmed in storms earlier this month, including the last one, an EF-0 near Boynton in Muskogee County, breaking the record.

This May by far saw the highest number of tornadoes this year with 105. That was followed by 22 in April, 11 in June, two in August and six in October.

“I guess knowing how busy May was, I wasn’t completely surprised,” said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the weather service in Norman.

He said two of the most significant tornadoes this year were a May 25 EF-3 storm that killed two people in El Reno and an April 30 EF-3 storm that killed two people in Bryan and Atoka counties.

However, Smith said that many of the tornadoes this year were of relatively low intensity, with many EF-0 and EF-1 storms on the Enhanced Fujita Scale.

In 1999, there were 12 tornadoes with an EF-3 rating or higher; this year there were three EF-3s and zero EF-4s or EF-5s.

Smith said the record this year may be in part because of the advent of social media, camera phones and more advanced radar, which did not exist in 1999.

“There’s more awareness of these little tornadoes that get embedded in these storms,” he said.

“Had you had all of that in 1999 ... it’s likely ‘99 would still have a higher number of tornadoes,” he said.

Smith also said that meteorologists don’t view this year’s record in terms of any kind of trend.

“You can’t really get any meaning out of that scientifically,” he said. “Using past years to forecast what’s going to happen doesn’t work. There’s no pattern to it that we know.”

The record was set in a year when Tulsa County as of June 2 also broke the record for most tornadoes in one season with eight. One more was confirmed since then to bring the total to nine. The previous record was six in 1960.

The Tulsa National Weather Service office also issued 103 tornado warnings between April 30 and May, the most of any NWS office in the country.

Since 1950, when tornado records started being kept, the state averages 1.6 tornadoes in November and 0.4 tornadoes in December.

The record number for November is 12 set in 1958 and the record for December is four, set in 1971, 1975 and 1982.

Declining ACT scores raise college readiness concerns

Oklahoma high school graduates’ scores on the ACT college-readiness exam declined in every subject this year, according to a report released Wednesday.

Most colleges use ACT or SAT scores as part of admissions requirements.

Statewide, the average composite score was 18.9, out of a possible 36. That represents a drop of 0.4 points compared to 2018. Reading and math scores each dipped 0.5 points, to 19.6 and 18.3.

Oklahoma is one of 15 states that tested 100% of its 2019 high school graduates. Among those states, Oklahoma’s average composite ranked 12th. Louisiana, Mississippi and Nevada posted lower scores.

Another worrisome trend in the report is the rising proportion of Oklahoma students who failed to meet any of the ACT’s college-readiness benchmarks, which are set for each of the four subjects. (ACT considers these “college ready” scores: 18 in English, 22 in social studies and math, and 23 in science.)

This year, 46% of students met zero benchmarks, compared to 43% in 2018 and 31% in 2015. Nationally, 36% did not meet any of the four benchmarks.

U.S. students’ average composite score was 20.7, a decrease of 0.1 points compared to 2018.

Students who took the recommended four years of English and three years each of math, science and social studies outperformed students who did not, according to ACT.

Since 2017, the state has funded and required all 11th-grade students to take either the ACT or SAT, an effort led by state Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. That increased the number of students taking the exam and resulted in an expected drop in average scores. But education officials say the initiative has benefits, such as saving students money and improving college accessibility.

The data in the report are based on 2019 graduates who took the ACT during high school.

Twitter bans political ads ahead of 2020 election

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter, reacting to growing concern about misinformation spread on social media, is banning all political advertising from its service. Its move strikes a sharp contrast with Facebook, which continues to defend running paid political ads, even false ones, as a free speech priority.

“While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Wednesday in a series of tweets announcing the new policy.

Facebook has taken fire since it reiterated in September that it will not fact-check ads by politicians or their campaigns, which could allow them to lie freely. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress in October that politicians have the right to free speech on Facebook.

Zuckerberg wasted no time responding to Twitter’s move. During Facebook’s conference call for earnings, which began less than an hour after Dorsey’s tweet, the Facebook chief offered an impassioned monologue about what he called his company’s deep belief “that political speech is important.”

Zuckerberg stood by the company’s decision to run unchecked political ads and denied that the choice is financially motivated, saying such ads make up less than half of a percent of Facebook revenue.

Facebook’s recent $5 billion fine from the Federal Trade Commission for privacy violations was more than 10 times what it makes from political ads, he said.

“This is complex stuff. Anyone who says the answer is simple hasn’t thought about the nuances and downstream challenges,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can say that we are not doing what we believe or we haven’t thought hard about these issues.”

Google did not have an immediate comment on Twitter’s policy change.

Trump’s campaign manager called Twitter’s change a “very dumb decision” in a statement Wednesday.

“This is yet another attempt to silence conservatives, since Twitter knows President Trump has the most sophisticated online program ever,” campaign manager Brad Parscale said.

The presidential campaign for former Vice President Joe Biden said it was “unfortunate” that companies would think the only option was to completely ban political ads.

“When faced with a choice between ad dollars and the integrity of our democracy, it is encouraging that, for once, revenue did not win out,” Bill Russo, the deputy communications director for Biden’s campaign said in a statement.

Political advertising makes up a small sliver of Twitter’s overall revenue. The company does not break out specific figures each quarter, but said political ad spending for the 2018 midterm election was less than $3 million. It reported $824 million in third-quarter revenue.

Candidates spend significantly more purchasing ads on Facebook than on Twitter, company records show.

The issue suddenly arose in September when Twitter, along with Facebook and Google, refused to remove a misleading video ad from President Donald Trump’s campaign that targeted Biden.

In response, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another presidential hopeful, ran her own ad on Facebook taking aim at Zuckerberg. The ad falsely claimed that Zuckerberg endorsed President Donald Trump for re-election, acknowledging the deliberate falsehood as necessary to make a point.

Critics have called on Facebook to ban all political ads. These include CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who recently called the company’s policy of allowing lies “absolutely ludicrous” and advised the social media giant to sit out the 2020 election until it can figure out something better.

Misleading political ads on social media played a major role in Russian disinformation efforts during the 2016 presidential election.

Dorsey said the company is recognizing that advertising on social media offers an unfair level of targeting compared to other mediums. It is not about free expression, he asserted.

“This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle,” he tweeted. “It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”

Twitter currently only allows certified campaigns and organizations to run political ads for candidates and issues. The latter tend to advocate on broader issues such as climate change, abortion rights and immigration.

The company said it will make some exceptions, such as allowing ads that encourage voter turnout. It will describe those in a detailed policy it plans to release on Nov. 15.

It will also still allow politicians to freely tweet their thoughts and opinions, which can then be shared and spread. Trump’s Twitter feed in particular is known for his often bombastic and controversial tweets that are shared widely.

Matt Shupe, a Republican political strategist whose public relations firm has won awards for its use of ads on Facebook, called Twitter’s decision “incredibly dumb.” He said there’s no reason to eliminate all political advertising just to stop the relatively small number of bogus or misleading ads.

“You can’t abolish television advertising because cigarette makers bought ads once,” he said.

The decision will hurt political challengers the most, Shupe said, as they don’t have the name recognition or wide reach of incumbents and need ads to get their message out.

“If you’re a challenger, advertising allows you to make up that difference,” he said. “It’s very hard to organically grow an audience for a state assemblyman campaign.”

Ethan Porter, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, echoed the concerns and called Twitter’s decision disappointing. He said it will deprive voters of one way to learn about those standing for election.

“That loss of information about candidates in an election — I don’t think that should be taken lightly,” he said. “Voters should know who the candidates in an election are and Twitter is an important platform.”

Twitter said in June that political figures and world leaders who tweet abusive or threatening messages might get slapped with a warning label, but the tweets would remain on the site. Twitter has not yet used this warning label.

Federal campaigns are expected to spend the majority of advertising dollars on broadcast and cable channels during the 2020 election, according to advertising research firm Kantar, and about 20% of the total $6 billion in spending on digital ads.

Twitter’s policy will start on Nov. 22.

Judge declines to put 'permitless carry' gun law on hold

OKLAHOMA CITY — An Oklahoma County district judge on Wednesday declined to put on hold a law allowing people to carry a firearm without a permit or training.

House Bill 2597, which will allow “constitutional” or “permitless” carry, takes effect Friday. The state already has an open carry law on the books.

Passed last session, HB 2597 was the first bill signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, and others filed a lawsuit earlier this month after failing to get enough signatures on an initiative petition seeking to let voters decide whether to nullify or keep the law.

Lowe said opponents will file an appeal Thursday with the Oklahoma Supreme Court. He called the law dangerous and unconstitutional.

The case is before Oklahoma County District Judge Don Andrews. A hearing late Wednesday afternoon on a temporary injunction lasted less than 30 minutes.

Andrews ruled only on the request to put the law on hold, not the merits of the lawsuit.

The suit alleges the measure violates the single-subject requirement of the Oklahoma Constitution.

Plaintiffs sought to put the law on hold pending the outcome of the legal challenge.

Stitt was named as the defendant. He is represented by Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter’s office, which argued against the injunction.

“Allowing an aggrieved litigant, particularly an individual legislator on the losing side of a vote, to enjoin duly enacted state laws makes the courts an agent in thwarting the democratic process, undermining the rule of law and the separation of powers,” Hunter’s office wrote in a brief objecting to the requested injunction.

The brief argued that the law only encompasses one subject.

But Melanie Wilson Rughani, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said the measure encompasses several subjects, ranging from immunity to the transportation of firearms in vehicles.

“We are pleased Judge Andrews ruled in our favor and did not grant a preliminary injunction, which will allow this law to go into effect on Nov. 1,” Hunter said. “My office is proud to defend the constitutional carry law against a political attack by plaintiffs who were unable to succeed at the Legislature, unable to persuade voters in the referendum process and now seeking to overturn a duly enacted law with meritless claims and scare tactics.”

The Oklahoma Second Amendment Association supported the measure.

Don Spencer, president of the association, was in the courtroom and said he was pleased with the decision.

The organization is expected to hold a rally at 10 a.m. Friday on the south side of the Capitol.

“It will be the first day to have 112 years of rights back,” Spencer said.

Lowe, who was also in the courtroom, said he was disappointed in the denial of an injunction.

“We knew that this was going to be a long process,” Lowe said. “We knew that this was going to be a long fight. We knew that eventually this case was going to go to the (Oklahoma) Supreme Court.”

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