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Norman Tornado Town Hall meeting puts new spin on weather safety

by Bryan Painter Published: September 9, 2012

The Canadian River protects Norman from tornadoes.

Tornadoes follow the river to Norman.

Blessings upon an Indian burial ground protect the city from twisters.

Topography places some Norman areas more at risk than others.

All of the above, as well as other thoughts, were shared as about 20 people gathered in Norman recently for the first of three scheduled Tornado Town Hall meetings conducted by representatives of the University of Oklahoma, the Cooperative Institute for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies and the National Weather Service.

The purpose of the meeting at the Norman Public Library, as well as one to follow later this month in Moore and another Oct. 4 in Newcastle, is for weather experts to better understand thoughts and perceptions of Oklahomans they are serving. This is just the start, and other meetings may be added.

“I think we heard some very interesting comments from the folks who came to our first meeting,” said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office after the first Tornado Town Hall. “I don't think there were any big surprises, but it was very interesting to hear how people perceive how tornadoes behave. For this first meeting, there were quite a few meteorologists who attended, but we did a pretty good job of staying quiet and listening, which is what these meetings are all about.

“People's perception of tornado risk is based on a variety of things including stories they've heard, personal experiences and their own observations of where tornadoes happen and what they do. Our goal is not to tell people any of this is wrong.”

Bought a shelter

Ann Riley has lived in Norman since 1974. She was about 1½ miles from one of the May 10, 2010, tornadoes. That marked the first time in her life she'd ever gone to a shelter. Her family bought a shelter after that.

What about that day changed your perspective?

“To be honest, I think we'd bought into the lore that Norman couldn't be hit by a tornado,” Riley said. “We'd always heard that. I think they said it was because the river kind of wraps around Norman. It seems silly now, it was probably just mathematical probability.”

Stephen Tremaine has lived in Norman his entire life, 27 years. At one time or another, he's heard it said that tornadoes hit the west side of Norman less often and that the river does protect the city.

“And you hear the person who thinks because there was some Indian tribe here at some point that they're not going to hit us here,” Tremaine said. “You've heard all of that over the years, and you kind of wonder how people react to that knowledge.”

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by Bryan Painter
Assistant Local Editor
Bryan Painter, assistant local editor, has 31 years’ experience in journalism, including 22 years with the state's largest newspaper, The Oklahoman. In that time he has covered such events as the April 19, 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah...
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