Oklahoma groups honored by American Meteorological Society for efforts related to 1999 tornado outbreak

The National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman, Okla., the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, KFOR, KOCO and KWTV television, the Southwest Independent Repeater Association and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, will all receive a special award from the American Meteorological Society for their actions before, during and after the deadly May 3, 1999 tornado outbreak.

The organizations are being honored “for outstanding and well-coordinated actions before, during and after the historic 3 May 1999 tornado outbreak in central Oklahoma, which prevented untold deaths and minimized the impact of the devastating storms.” The award will be presented Jan. 17 at the AMS 81st Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, N.M.

The National Weather Service Norman, Okla., Weather Forecast Office (WFO) was responsible for monitoring the severe weather across the Oklahoma region as it developed on May 3, 1999 and then warning the residents of the area about the tornado threat. The WFO serves 48 counties in southern, central, and western Oklahoma, and eight counties in the western portion of north Texas. The Norman WFO provides forecast and warning services, including tornado, severe thunderstorm, flash flood, and winter weather warnings. The Norman WFO is one of 122 similar offices the National Weather Service.

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, directed by Commissioner Bob A. Ricks, with more than 700 troopers protecting the citizens of Oklahoma, helped citizens reach safety during the event and managed all law enforcement operations in the aftermath.

The three television stations played a key role in informing the public about the warnings and potential dangers. KFOR, Oklahoma City’s NBC affiliate, is lead by meteorologist Mike Morgan, while KOCO, the ABC affiliate, is lead by meteorologist Rick Mitchell, and KWTV, the city’s CBS affiliate, is lead by meteorologist Gary England. All three stations relayed a consistent message of a life-threatening storm approaching the city, and innovative tools such as TV cameras mounted on helicopters and a ground based camera network were used by some to provide continuous updates on the position of the storm.

Select emergency managers, fire departments and law enforcement officials were kept up to date on the tornado event and recovery efforts through OK-First, a Web-based system developed by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, directed by Dr. Kenneth Crawford. The system provided radar images to officials across the state notifying smaller communities of impending danger, routing emergency services, and implementing evacuations.

The Southwest Independent Repeater Association (SWIRA) is a group of amateur radio operators in Southwest Oklahoma and North Texas. Using ham radios, severe weather spotters relayed vital, real-time information about the May 3, 1999 tornado to the National Weather Service and other groups. Terry Mahorney is SWIRA president.

The AMS, founded in 1919, is the nation’s leading professional society for scientists in the atmospheric and related sciences. The Society publishes nine well-respected scientific journals, sponsors scientific conferences, and supports public education programs across the country. Additional information on the AMS, the Annual Meeting, and other award winners is available on the Internet at http://www.ametsoc.org/ams.