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Preparation is ongoing process for NWS

Oklahoman Modified: March 9, 2013 at 7:47 pm •  Published: March 11, 2013

Preparing for severe weather is an ongoing process. With that in mind, Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service, Norman Forecast Office, was asked by The Oklahoman to keep a journal for several weeks, noting such preparations.

Dec. 30, 2012-Jan. 5, 2013: After a process that started two months ago, we put the finishing touches on the 2013 storm spotter training calendar. This year there will be six of us providing the training, including three of our newest forecasters.

Jan. 6-Jan. 12: One of my jobs is to help communities be ready when severe weather strikes, and we work on that all year long. We have a program called StormReady, which recognizes communities who can demonstrate they have a plan and are ready to deal with hazardous weather. This week I met with the emergency manager from the city of Tecumseh to discuss the StormReady program, and traveled to Eldorado to present them with their StormReady recognition.

Jan. 13-Jan. 19: There are lots of things that go on within the NWS office to get ready for storm season. This week's activities included a preseason meeting with our senior forecasters, meteorologists who serve as shift leaders on quiet days and coordinators during severe weather events. We also got a chance to meet one of our new TV meteorologist partners and show him our operations. This is a team effort, and we rely on all the team members to be successful.

Jan. 20-Jan. 26: One of the best parts of my job is getting to travel around our warning area and meet with all kinds of people. This week I was in Woodward talking with medical professionals, hospital administrators and emergency medical services about tornado warnings. These folks have to make critical life-or-death decisions based on our warnings, and we're exploring ways to help them with those decisions. I also got to visit Sheppard Air Force Base to present them with their StormReady award.

Jan. 27-Feb. 2: This was another busy week of meetings and travel, working with our partners on a couple of very important projects related to severe weather preparedness. After a morning of helping around the office with severe weather that affected parts of our area, I traveled to Durant to meet with James Dalton, the Durant/Bryan County Emergency Manager, for a series of meetings about upcoming severe weather safety presentations in Durant. It felt very strange to leave the office during a tornado watch, but the office was well-staffed, and the meetings were important. We've developed some unique partnerships thanks to James, and I'm excited about a big safety presentation there at the end of February.

Also in this series

Feb. 3-Feb. 9: We kicked off our storm spotter training season this week, with classes in Guthrie and Wichita Falls, Texas. Both classes had about 90 people show up, and the presentations went very well. The first classes of the season can be a little rough around the edges, but the audiences are usually pretty forgiving. We have a lot of dedicated spotters and public safety personnel who attend these classes year after year. I don't think most people realize the work that some of these folks do to help protect their communities from severe weather, using their own vehicles and gas, their own radio equipment and in many cases their free time to go out and spot storms. Interacting with them is one of the best parts of my job.

Feb. 10-Feb. 16: Another week, and more storm spotter training. Monday night I drove to Lawton for what's always a good crowd of folks interested in learning about storms. I got a bonus on this trip, though, as I got a chance to see the entire TV weather team from KSWO-TV in Lawton. Their operation is not as large as the OKC stations, but their responsibility and dedication is just as big. The next night was our annual spotter training class for the OKC metro area, held here at the National Weather Center. We had 111 people join us for the training, which was conducted by Doug Speheger, a forecaster in our office. He's a longtime member of our training team, and as someone who chases storms, he brings a unique perspective to the classes he teaches. While Doug was teaching storm spotters, I joined Kim Klockow and Randy Peppler in speaking to the OU Student Chapter of the American Meteorological Society for an update on our tornado town hall research. No matter whom you're speaking to, it always comes back around to tornadoes.

Feb. 17-Feb. 23: This was a busy week for the office with a significant winter storm affecting much of our area over a two-day period. We look at every event as a learning experience for the next one to come, and even winter storms help us hone our skills and prepare for springtime severe weather. In between bouts of snow and sleet, I did several tornado safety presentations around the area, including one at Southeastern Oklahoma State University in Durant, and another for a meeting of facility managers at the CareerTech schools across the state. It's great to see that colleges and schools are taking tornado safety seriously. Those officials have a huge responsibility for helping keep students, faculty and staff safe.

Feb. 24-March 2: It always seems like time speeds up the closer we get to March, and this year is no exception! The threat of another winter storm caused us to cancel our spotter training in Altus, but our first online training session of the season went on as scheduled. These were extremely popular last season, and they let people who might never come to a live class get the same training from their laptop, tablet or phone. And we never have to worry about canceling because of snow or ice. But even as we gear up for severe weather in the coming months, we're also dealing with the reality of the ongoing drought across our area. Those same spring thunderstorms that we worry about bringing hail and tornadoes are the ones we depend on to bring us a significant amount of our annual rain. If the storms don't come, the drought gets worse. We have to hope the storms bring the rain this spring, but also that people are ready to deal with the dangerous parts of the storms.


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