It’s not often that we get an inside look at the operations of a National Weather Service office. The Tulsa World has written a nice article that takes us inside the Tulsa National Weather Service that not only gives a glimpse of the day-to-day operations, but points out some things that make the Tulsa office unique compared to other NWSFO & a badly needed reminder that Tulsa is just as vulnerable as Moore, OK or Joplin, MO to a devastating tornado. As the 2013 severe weather season wound down across the great plains, I thought back about the events of this past spring and years past and couldn’t help but think, “There’s no reason why those devastating events can’t happen here.” Reading the article brought back a flood of great memories. If you’ll bear with me, I’d like to share some with you.
My first visits to the Tulsa NWSFO were back in the mid 1970’s when it was still located at the southwestern portion of Tulsa International Airport. By today’s standards, the equipment was primitive. Upon entering the main forecast room, I felt like I’d entered a “nirvana” of sorts. Looking back, I wonder how, in such cramped conditions, they managed to crank out forecasts and handle the mayhem and multi-tasking that probably took place during many severe weather events. One wall held countless weather maps, most transmitted by facsimile, others carefully drawn with hand analysis. To the right was the teletype room that so often was filled with the din of machines banging out various weather products. The smell of the oil, ink, and heat from those teletypes is still so vivid to me. Across the hall was the radar room. Always darkened, the radar sat with its WSR-57 scope softly glowing. Rain showers and thunderstorms appeared like ghostly blobs on the screen. Farther back were the Meteorologist In Charge office and another separate room. Overall, the working conditions were cramped, dated, and lacking any creature comforts. Yet for 365 days a year and 24/7, the Tulsa meteorologists worked diligently at forecasts, hourly observations, and quite often, life saving warnings.
I’ll never forget the meteorologists that took me under their wings and patiently answered the incessant questions of this wide-eyed 14-year-old weather geek. Ben Barker was the Meteorologists In Charge (MIC) and he, along with Lloyd Spyres and Jim Irwin, were never anything but gracious and welcoming to me on the countless visits I made there over an eight year period. Ben Barker helped me with a career planning project for my 8th grade Civics & Economics class and gave me my first radiosonde…which I still treasure with a great deal of sentiment. Jim Irwin was always happy to help explain the technical side of things. I vividly recall him taking 30 minutes of his time to explain to me how to understand and interpret SKEW-T data. Lloyd Spyres was also such a gracious mentor in so many ways. On one of my last visits with Lloyd, he listened to my vivid account of the damage from the Mannford and Morris, OK tornadoes of April, 1984. After patiently listening to me, he smiled and agreed that severe weather is indeed interesting but if tornadoes and severe thunderstorms were the only part of the atmospheric sciences that I was interested in, I was selling myself short and missing out on the main point of meteorology…the entire planet is covered in this fantastic ocean of air we live at the bottom of…and there’s always interesting weather going on. “It’s all interesting, everything about the physics of the atmosphere is fascinating. It’s not just about storms, that’s not the point.”
It’s all interesting. Those words have stuck in my mind for almost 30 years. On rare occasions, I have to remind myself of the sage wisdom that Lloyd shared with me that day. I very subtle ways, Ben Barker and Jim Irwin also conveyed the same message to me. All too often in social media, I’ll come across folks who mean well, but whose entire interest in weather encompasses little more than severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. It’s not my place to “correct” them, but I have to bite my tongue and realize that I was like that as a young teenager. Still, if a person’s only interested in severe weather, they’re missing the point. All weather is interesting.
My thanks to Tulsa World for a nice article about the hard-working folks at the Tulsa NWS and @FredOrth for sharing this article with me.
I’m looking forward to a rainy Friday tomorrow and a pleasant warm-up for the weekend. Why? Because it’s weather…and all weather is interesting.