By Hannah Cruz
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Gasps of glee echoed across the front yard of the National Weather Center Saturday morning as a weather balloon took flight into the sunny atmosphere.
The periodic balloon launches were just one of many exciting activities taking place on the center’s campus 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. during the annual National Weather Festival.
After the noon launch, News9 meteorologist Matt Mahler said the festival made the perfect opportunity for Oklahomans to come out and learn about the different organizations that keep them safe during severe weather events.
“Especially after these May tornadoes and everything, people want to know where their warnings come from,” Mahler said. “They want to know who’s the one helping to keep them safe. They can put a face to all the TV stations, they can come see all of this and meet the meteorologists they see on TV.”
Near the balloon launches, fair attendees had the opportunity to get up close and personal with news helicopters, research vehicles and emergency response vehicles. Booths were also set up outside to allow visitors to ask experts about a variety of weather-related topics.
Other events taking place outside included performances by the Oklahoma City Thunder Girls, Storm Chasers and Thunder Drummers.
Inside at the center’s atrium, hundreds stood shoulder-to-shoulder as they shuffled in slow-moving lines for their chance to see the interactive informational booths displayed by dozens of weather-related organizations.
Some guests took time out from the booths to attend presentations given throughout the day by organizations such as Oklahoma Strong, NOAA, OU Health Sciences Center and AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions. Topics included “Overcoming Your Weather Fears” and “Your Tornado Questions Answered.”
Mike Smith, AccuWeather Enterprise Solutions senior vice president, gave a presentation titled “The Tornado Warning System: Where Do We Go From Here?”
Smith explored ways warning systems could be streamlined to improve effective communication. He suggested brief, area-targeted notifications be used to keep residents informed with up-to-date information to help them take the best safety precautions.
In the meantime, Smith suggested Oklahoma residents use several warning systems such as both a weather radio and smart phone weather aps to keep themselves informed about tornado and severe weather dangers.
“You want to respect tornadoes, but there’s no need to fear them,” he said.
Upstairs a room was dedicated to children’s learning activities including a booth hosted by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality. The booth was a model of a city that acted as a air quality microcosm. Dry ice from behind the model created a smog effect in the model city. The booth attendant spoke with children about the importance of air quality and its effect on personal and environmental health.
Daniel Ross, Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality environmental program specialist in air monitoring, looked on as his 9-year-old daughter observed the model.
“I don’t think just the school setting in itself is enough to learn what [children] need to learn about their environment and about the science that goes into it,” Ross said. “We like to come to stuff like this not only as a father-daughter opportunity but to learn about the things that they just don’t have time and resources to learn about in the schools.”
Lance Steele, Weathernews meteorologist, attended the fair with his wife, 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. He said his daughter has shown a lot of interest in weather since the May tornadoes, and the fair provides another opportunity for her to learn a variety of information.
For the public at large, Steele said the fair is a great way for individuals to learn how to be weather aware and prepared.
“It’s important for people to learn what information is useful, where to go for the information, how to follow it, all those types of things for safety,” he said.
Other activities at the fair included FIRST LEGO League demonstrations and access to Hydroworld, the Storm Predication Center and National Weather Service Forecast Office.