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Tornado hit home for National Weather Service trackers

By James Tyree Modified: May 1, 2009 at 1:47 pm •  Published: May 1, 2009

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NORMAN — Scott Curl and his colleagues at the National Weather Service Norman Forecast Office were already busy tracking the most catastrophic string of tornadoes they had ever seen.

And then Curl learned that his mother-in-law's southwest Oklahoma City home in the Greenbriar Eastlake Patio Homes addition was wiped out.

“That was really a change from the operational side of me working here and then getting the call from my wife saying, ‘OK, the National Guard and police are escorting her out of the addition, and we're going to pick her up,'” he recalled. “And then going up there the next day after I got off work and just seeing the devastation up there, that was an eerie feeling.”

Curl, Dave Andra and Harold Brooks are among the Norman meteorologists who were on the job during the tornado outbreak of May 3, 1999.

Andra, the science and operations officer in the Norman Forecast Office, said the work day started in typical fashion at 8 a.m. but lasted past 1 a.m. By 5 p.m., he and others realized “this was evolving in a way that would put significant risk of tornadoes in populated areas that evening.”

A Kansas native who has worked in the Norman forecast office since 1987, Andra said when the storm was moving west of Norman he could go outside, hear the tornado sirens and see the lightning strikes toward the west, knowing what was underneath that thunderstorm.

“It was hazy, and we couldn't see the tornado from where we were, but you always hear about what it would look like and sound like as that was happening,” Andra said.

The tornadoes and their devastating toll captured national and international media attention for more than a week, so Andra and others were busy answering questions in addition to collecting storm data.

“Of course the presidential visit came up toward the end of that week, and there was more activity associated with that, so it was probably the biggest week that I can remember,” Andra said.

Brooks, a research meteorologist with the National Severe Storms Laboratory, planned to coach his daughter's soccer team after work on May 3. The game was called off shortly after 5 p.m.

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