Commerce Department awards Gold Medal to National Weather Service Norman Forecast Office

The U.S. Department of Commerce has awarded its Gold Medal to the staff of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service Norman Forecast Office for “exemplary, life-saving performance during the devastating May 3, 1999 tornadoes.”

Two staff members who were on duty May 3 will accept the award Dec. 7 from Commerce Secretary William Daley at a ceremony in Washington, D.C.

The Secretary grants the Gold Medal — the Department’s highest honorary award — for extraordinary achievements in support of the Department’s critical objectives. These achievements have a significant beneficial effect on the nation, and sometimes the world.

Countless lives were saved because of the excellent warnings issued by the local forecast office on May 3. The average tornado warning lead time for the outbreak was 18 minutes, and some areas had warnings more than 30 minutes before tornadoes struck. Even with as many as four tornadoes on the ground at one time, forecasters were the picture of professionalism as they issued 116 county warnings in 10 hours. Preliminary records show 59 tornadoes hit southwestern and central Oklahoma during that time, making it the largest outbreak in Oklahoma history.

“The skill level of our staff and the technology available to us all came together May 3 to produce a performance we can be proud of,” said Meteorologist-in-Charge Dennis McCarthy.

The Norman forecast office has also received recognition for its May 3rd performance from Governor Frank Keating, the Oklahoma State Legislature and the Oklahoma Municipal League. In 1992, the Department of Commerce presented a Silver Medal to the Norman forecast office for major contributions involving the modernization of the National Weather Service.

More information about the May 3 tornado outbreak is available online at: http://www.srh.noaa.gov/oun/.