President meets with NWS forecasters following devastating Oklahoma tornado

Date Posted: May 28, 2013

National Weather Service forecasters tend to be modest when it comes to praise. Yet, for several members of the NWS Norman, Okla., forecast office and Storm Prediction Center teams, there was every reason to feel a sense of accomplishment for a job well done on Sunday when they had the opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama.

The president visited Oklahoma to tour the areas damaged by last week’s deadly EF-5 tornado that struck the Oklahoma City suburbs of Newcastle and Moore. Following his tour of the damage and a press conference in Moore, Obama met with NWS staff on the tarmac at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma, next to Air Force One.

The radar receiving dish inside the protective cover. Dual-pol is both a hardware and software upgrade to the radar.

During their meeting, the president praised NWS forecasters for their efforts in issuing timely and accurate forecasts, watches and warnings ahead of the tornado, a message he delivered earlier that day at the press conference. “From the forecasters who issued the warnings, to the first responders who dug through the rubble, to the teachers who shielded with their own bodies their students, Oklahomans have inspired us with their love and their courage and their fellowship,” he said.

Earlier in the day, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest made remarks to the press aboard Air Force One, while en route to Oklahoma. “On May 15th, five days before Monday’s destructive tornadoes, the National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center, based in Oklahoma, forecasted a threat of a major severe weather outbreak in the area and communicated this forecast to state and local officials, the media, and the general public,” Earnest said. He went on to praise not only the NWS forecasters involved in the event, but the larger NOAA research community, whose work contributed to forecasters’ ability to issue timely and accurate warnings, noting that “advancements made by government scientists in the field of weather forecasting at these agencies are dramatic and are saving lives.” When asked by a reporter to elaborate on the advancements in forecasting, Earnest responded by saying that “the advancements are really interesting, both because they are providing people greater warning in terms of time, but they’re also becoming much more specific in terms of being able to target which specific areas are likely to bear the brunt of the severe weather.”

On the tarmac next to Air Force One, Obama spent about 10 minutes greeting the NWS staff who were present, which included four members of the SPC staff and six from the Norman forecast office.

SPC Director Russ Schneider, who was among those present, said that Obama’s remarks reflected his appreciation for the work the men and women throughout NWS and NOAA do to save lives and build a Weather-Ready Nation. “He expressed his sincere thanks for the service we perform for the nation each day, how important the warnings we provide are for the public,” Schneider said.

“The president was sincere in his appreciation to our staff for the warnings they issued that day,” said David Andra, meteorologist-in-charge of the NWS Norman forecast office. “I think he understands the dedication and professionalism required to do your job even when family and friends are threatened.”

Also present on the tarmac was FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, who had visited SPC and the NWS Norman forecast office for several hours last Wednesday, two days after the tornado. Fugate described to the president which individuals were from SPC and which served at the local forecast office and praised both offices for their service, noting their critical impact on FEMA operations.

Through products issued by SPC and the WFO, NWS had forecast a major severe weather outbreak over Oklahoma as much as five days in advance, and communicated this information, with increasing specificity, in the days prior to the event. The NWS Norman forecast office echoed this message as they communicated directly and frequently with their local emergency management and public safety partners every day starting on May 15. At 10:00 a.m. on Monday May 20, the NWS Norman forecast office briefed more than 100 emergency managers, first responders, school and hospital administrators highlighting the enhanced tornado risk and the impact the storm timing would have on areas schools. At 1:10 p.m. CDT on Monday, May 20, more than two hours prior to the tornado touching down, SPC, in coordination with the Norman forecast office, issued a Tornado Watch that included the city of Moore. At 2:40 p.m., 16 minutes before the tornado developed — and 36 minutes before the tornado struck the city of Moore — forecasters at the NWS Norman forecast office issued a Tornado Warning for the city. Staff at the NWS forecast office also shared specific minute-by-minute messages on Facebook and Twitter.

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