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Oklahoma meteorologists continue to revisit May tornadoes in hope for a better future

The National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office and the Storm Prediction Center in Norman are using lessons learned in 2013 to prepare for the upcoming severe weather season.
by Bryan Painter Published: March 9, 2014

In some ways the month hasn’t changed.

Lightning reflected off flood waters and exposed tornado debris as the month of May ended and June began in 2013.

There were 63 tornadoes in May 2013 in Oklahoma.

The more than five-dozen tornadoes ripped through metro areas, several other communities and rural Oklahoma.

By comparison, the average number of tornadoes for the month of May in the state is 22 based on official records since 1950.

Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service’s Norman Forecast Office, said “To many of us in the office, it’s still May 2013.”

“I’m pretty sure there hasn’t been a day that’s gone by since last May when we haven’t discussed, thought about, studied or reviewed what happened on those days,” Smith said. “And as spring 2014 rapidly approaches, we’re thinking about what we learned, and what we can do this spring to help the people of our area cope with severe weather and be safe and informed. From our perspective, the warning system worked very well on May 19, 20 and 31, but we still had loss of life.”

The Norman Forecast Office is responsible for weather information for 48 counties in northern, western, central and southern Oklahoma and eight counties in western and north Texas.

David Andra is the meteorologist in charge of the Norman Forecast Office, which is the National Weather Center.

“Ask anybody that has responsibilities for delivering warning information or providing for the public’s safety in a weather emergency,” Andra said, “the tragic events of May 2013 are still at the forefront of our minds and every day we work harder to take lessons learned and improve our services and response.

“Many of us, myself included, either had family or friends that were affected in some way. One can’t help but feel a personal connection to the various communities that lost so much last year. Out of that loss was an opportunity to learn and go forward; to be better prepared, to improve our forecasts and warnings, to better respond when and where disaster strikes in the months and years ahead.”

The Storm Prediction Center, also located in the National Weather Center, is a part of the National Weather Service’s National Centers for Environmental Prediction. The purpose of this office is to protect life and property of the American people by issuing timely, accurate watch and forecast products dealing with tornadoes and other weather hazards across the nation.

Specifically, they issue watches nationally and then the forecast offices issue warnings locally to their designated counties.

“The tragic events in central Oklahoma last spring were a stark reminder to each of us that there is more work yet to be done to fully reach our goal of a weather-ready nation,” said Russell Schneider, director of the Storm Prediction Center. “With our nationwide responsibility at the Storm Prediction Center we experience most tornado tragedies from a distant vantage point, but last spring we experienced the terrible impacts of these storms along with our own families and friends.”

While meteorologists are known primarily for forecasts, they also have a good sense of what follows tornado outbreaks and other severe weather.

“As we watch spring 2014 racing toward us, we know this spring is going to be very different for many people in our area,” Smith said. “Chances are if you live in central Oklahoma you were either impacted by the tornadoes directly, you know someone who was or you were exposed to a lot of horrible images and video of what happened.

“We probably have thousands of people who will look at storms, and weather information, very differently this spring versus last. We want to do everything we can to give people the information they need to stay safe, but also to let them know we are here watching out for them 24 hours a day.”

On average, there are 55 tornadoes a year in Oklahoma, according to the official records. While this includes EF0 to EF5, each is taken seriously, Smith said.

“Our office is part of what is probably the best severe weather forecasting team in the world,” Smith said. “You cannot beat the information that our partners in TV provide, and our emergency management and public safety agencies are the best of the best when it comes to dealing with tornadoes.

“If you have to live in a place where tornadoes happen, this is the place to live. But everyone has a role to play in tornado preparedness and survival. Warnings are only good if people hear them, believe them and act on them.”

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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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We probably have thousands of people who will look at storms, and weather information, very differently this spring versus last. We want to do everything we can to give people the information they need to stay safe, but also to let them know we are here watching out for them 24 hours a day.”

Rick Smith,
Warning coordination meteorologist,

National Weather

Service, Norman

Forecast Office


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