Prelude to Disaster: Inside the Oklahoma Weather Center

Science & Space

The National Weather Service forecast center in Norman, Oklahoma, is located in a five-story building on the south campus of the University of Oklahoma. It is technically on the second floor, but an auditorium  located below it  dips partly underground, so the experience is more like being on the first floor. It has a wall of windows facing west and is neither tornado-proof nor tornado-resistant.

“We were conscious that we could be hit,” says Rick Smith, warning coordinator meteorologist, who was on scene Monday from 7 AM  through the time the tornado hit at 3 PM. He went home at 11 PM. “We have redundant power systems and plans in place in case we’re affected; we have a back-up center in Tulsa and we practice what we preach about seeking shelter if we have to. We were experiencing power bumps here and there but nothing that took us offline.”

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