NORMAN — Two men mentioned one rare phrase.
David Andra and Scott Curl, of the National Weather Service in Norman, were both working when an F5 tornado struck the Oklahoma City metro area May 3, 1999.
Andra, now the meteorologist in charge, and Curl, a senior forecaster, were also working Monday when a tornado of at least EF4 strength struck some of the same areas.
Curl was the warning forecaster on that F5 tornado in 1999 and again on Monday's storm.
Both times the rare term “tornado emergency” was used to warn the public of a dangerous, long-track tornado.
Monday, they used the regular warnings, but added this phrase to that. Curl and Andra both noted that distinction in wording.
“We used that the evening of the May 3rd because at the time it was an unprecedented event that we were looking at,” Curl said.
“We had a large, violent tornado on the ground about to head into the most populous center in the state of Oklahoma and we were trying to make people aware that this was something different than normal.
“We were trying to do anything that we could at that time to get people's attention.
And that's pretty much what we were doing again today, was trying to tell people this was as significant of an event as it possibly could be.
“Depending on what we said may have helped somebody make a decision that hopefully saved their life.”
Andra was the science and operations officer at the time of the tornado 14 years ago, and he helped coordinate the overall message and response for that storm.
“That was the first time we'd used the phrase ‘tornado emergency,' and we used that phrase again today for the same general area, Moore, south Oklahoma City,” Andra said.
“You could probably count on one hand or less the times that we have used that in the intervening years.
“It's very rare that we'll use that term. It's kind of our highest level of urgency and we want to convey that this is a tornado that is among the top, probably 1 percent, in terms of intensity and danger to the population of central Oklahoma that was in the path.”
Andra said the key difference he noticed between Monday and May 3, 1999, was a higher expectation of tornadoes in central Oklahoma going into this storm.
“We specifically highlighted the area, mainly south of Interstate 40 and east of Interstate 44 down to our south,” Andra said.
“So, central/south-central Oklahoma was the focus of the forecast with pretty specific timing for storms to arrive and produce tornadoes.”
Andra said the path was somewhat similar and Monday's tornado “probably had an intensity that is going to ultimately be similar.”
“We don't know, having not surveyed the event yet,” Andra said, “but this is obviously a large, violent tornado that moved through lots of populated area.”
Andra leads the National Weather Service's Norman Forecast Office, which is responsible for 48 counties in Oklahoma and eight in Texas.