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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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when a tornado arrived in Chickasha, but he was initially more concerned about the lightning heading toward the Norman fields.

The Brooks family rode out the storm in a friend's basement. They returned home about 10 p.m., but Brooks' night was far from over.

“My first calls came at 10:15,” he said. “‘Dateline NBC' called, and another call came around 11 o'clock from the BBC wanting to do a live piece on the ‘Breakfast News' show. I figured in the first 48 hours starting at 10 o'clock Monday night, I was doing an interview or preparing for one in 33 of those first 48 hours. It was nothing like we had seen before.”

Tornadoes were nothing new to Curl, a Newcastle resident and Norman native who joined the forecast office in 1993 upon graduating from OU.

When he started work on May 3, the threat of severe weather seemed typical. He moved over to the forecast desk at 4 p.m., and within an hour a major tornado threat was heading straight toward Chickasha.

Even then, the idea of tornadoes reaching the Oklahoma City area didn't cross his mind.

“Once it got north of Chickasha and started heading up the turnpike, that's when it really got my attention that we've got a significant one on our hands if it stays on the ground,” Curl said.

Curl focused on reading radars, gathering information from other sources such as amateur radio operators and drawing up warnings. But he also thought of his family and his wife's family, all of whom lived in the metro area and were near the path of the storm.

Curl saw and learned the next day the full scope of the May 3 tornadoes. He visited his mother-in-law's neighborhood and saw the devastation. He was hit even harder by the storm's death toll.

“I do this every day, and I've seen events occur since then, though not to that magnitude,” he added. “I can deal with those a little better, but I think it's the personal side and seeing how families' lives have been affected and lost. That side of things is what I continue to carry within myself.”