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March 22, 2014

National Weather Service assesses Norman’s tornado preparedness

NORMAN — Weather warnings save lives. The 28 or so employees at Norman’s Weather Forecast Office know that and dedicate themselves daily to improving tornado, flood and other extreme weather predictions. Friday, that hard work and dedication were recognized in a report of best practices following the May 2013 tornado season.

Seldom has the need for early warnings been as extreme as they were when a series of tornadoes and flooding hit the Norman and Oklahoma City metro area on May 19, 20 and 31. For at least 47 people, those 13 days of active storm weather in 2013 were deadly.

Historic level flash flooding in Oklahoma City on May 31 caused more fatalities than the tornadoes on that day.

Friday, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service released an assessment of Norman’s Weather Forecast Office’s performance before and during the event.

According to the assessment, WFO Norman performed “well above the NWS’s 2013 goal for national tornado and flash flood.”

“The intent of this report is to provide the National Weather Service with information to help us improve our operations across the country, ” said Warning Coordination Meteorologist Rick Smith, a Norman resident who also served on a team that recently helped Norman schools assess their response and future preparedness.

Smith said the assessment is mostly good news and underlines best practices that helped save lives through early warnings, then provided ongoing information during events and helped direct emergency managers to damaged areas.

“What worked well here can also be used across the nation,” Smith said.

NWO Norman’s performance included 55 tornado warnings and hundreds of statements and social media posts issued from May 19 to May 31, with an average lead time of nearly 21 minutes. The investigating team found that 87 percent of all the tornadoes that occurred during the time frame were preceded by a warning. In the case of the flash flooding, 91 percent were preceded by warnings that averaged an 84 minute lead time.

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