For Oklahoma meteorologists, the May 20 tornado outbreak is unending

Even when the tornado goes away, the learning continues for meteorologists of the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office
by Bryan Painter Modified: June 1, 2013 at 1:33 am •  Published: June 3, 2013
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The time was 3:35 p.m.

That's when the EF5 tornado of May 20 ended.

For various people and different reasons, it will not end.

Among those are the meteorologists of the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office.

In the days after the tornado, questions were fielded from state, national and international media by David Andra, the meteorologist in charge, and Rick Smith, the warning coordination meteorologist, both of that office.

But now they want answers, both meteorological and social. They want to know how the storm worked and why it did, what it did, when it did. They also want to know the same about the response of the public. What actions did they take? What did they do differently on May 20, versus the F5 of May 3, 1999?

They already know of one of the differences: social media.

Weather followers

“We're trying some new things here to communicate with people,” Smith said. “The weather service since the '60s has been yelling in all capital letters to people with these standard looking tornado warnings. But with Twitter and Facebook and some of these other technologies we're able to talk to people more directly, more simply.”

At least 19 tornadoes occurred on May 19-20, including two EF2s, one EF3, one EF4 and one EF5 with more information still being collected by the National Weather Service.

In looking at the Norman Forecast Office's Facebook numbers, it gained just short of 10,000 likes from May 18 to May 28. And its Twitter account went from 14,373 followers to 19,626.

“One of the questions would be just how did people get their information?” Smith said. “We know typically a lot of people watch television to get their information, but social media is so big now and we put such a big emphasis on it this time around more than we ever have.

“Did that work? Did anybody see a tweet or a Facebook post that really made a difference, did that really save someone's life?”

Andra said they take this “Monday morning quarterback” approach whether they've just come through a winter storm, hailstorm, or wildfire. But on tornadoes they've really looked into numbers that maybe aren't typically associated with weather.

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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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