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The National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman, Okla., the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, KFOR, KOCO and KWTV television, the Southwest Independent Repeater Association and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, will all receive a special award from the American Meteorological Society for their actions before, during and after the deadly May 3, 1999 tornado outbreak.

The organizations are being honored "for outstanding and well-coordinated actions before, during and after the historic 3 May 1999 tornado outbreak in central Oklahoma, which prevented untold deaths and minimized the impact of the devastating storms." The award will be presented Jan. 17 at the AMS 81st Annual Meeting in Albuquerque, N.M.

The National Weather Service Norman, Okla., Weather Forecast Office (WFO) was responsible for monitoring the severe weather across the Oklahoma region as it developed on May 3, 1999 and then warning the residents of the area about the tornado threat. The WFO serves 48 counties in southern, central, and western Oklahoma, and eight counties in the western portion of north Texas. The Norman WFO provides forecast and warning services, including tornado, severe thunderstorm, flash flood, and winter weather warnings. The Norman WFO is one of 122 similar offices the National Weather Service.

The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety, directed by Commissioner Bob A. Ricks, with more than 700 troopers protecting the citizens of Oklahoma, helped citizens reach safety during the event and managed all law enforcement operations in the aftermath.

The three television stations played a key role in informing the public about the warnings and potential dangers. KFOR, Oklahoma City's NBC affiliate, is lead by meteorologist Mike Morgan, while KOCO, the ABC affiliate, is lead by meteorologist Rick Mitchell, and KWTV, the city's CBS affiliate, is lead by meteorologist Gary England. All three stations relayed a consistent message of a life-threatening storm approaching the city, and innovative tools such as TV cameras mounted on helicopters and a ground based camera network were used by some to provide continuous updates on the position of the storm.

Select emergency managers, fire departments and law enforcement officials were kept up to date on the tornado event and recovery efforts through OK-First, a Web-based system developed by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, directed by Dr. Kenneth Crawford. The system provided radar images to officials across the state notifying smaller communities of impending danger, routing emergency services, and implementing evacuations.

The Southwest Independent Repeater Association (SWIRA) is a group of amateur radio operators in Southwest Oklahoma and North Texas. Using ham radios, severe weather spotters relayed vital, real-time information about the May 3, 1999 tornado to the National Weather Service and other groups. Terry Mahorney is SWIRA president.

The AMS, founded in 1919, is the nation's leading professional society for scientists in the atmospheric and related sciences. The Society publishes nine well-respected scientific journals, sponsors scientific conferences, and supports public education programs across the country. Additional information on the AMS, the Annual Meeting, and other award winners is available on the Internet at


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Oklahoma and Kansas Tornadoes: Recovery Continues



Rescue personnel remove an injured man from a damaged structure.

NEWINGTON, CT, May 6, 1999--As recovery operations continue in the aftermath of Monday's devastating tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area, the Salvation Army and the American Red Cross both have put out a call for additional Amateur Radio assistance. As in past emergencies elsewhere, some hams are traveling long distances to help.

Oklahoma Section Manager Charlie Calhoun, K5TTT, reports the Salvation Army has requested amateur operators starting May 7 "and probably for the rest of the week." "They need hams to act as shadows and transport units in addition to manning the canteens," Calhoun said. "They are expecting to send out 40 canteens into the field tomorrow."

Calhoun said much of the activity is going through the Edmond, Oklahoma, 147.135 MHz repeater, which can be difficult to access with hand-held transceivers. "So it is preferred that the amateurs bring with them an external mag-mount antenna, power supply (there may be AC available) and plenty of battery power, along with their mobile rig," he said.

He said volunteers should plan to stay at least four hours in the field. "They are not allowing vehicles in and out of the area, they are shuttling hams in and out." Calhoun said it appeared that Amateur Radio communication would be required at least through Saturday. He said the Salvation Army has shut down operations at night for the last two days. Volunteers should check in with the net control on the 147.135 repeater upon arriving in Oklahoma City.

Meanwhile, hams from the Tulsa area are planning to leave today for the Oklahoma City area to assist.

Ken Runyon, KC5PNO, reports that The Red Cross is requesting at least 50 amateur operators to be available all day Friday, May 7, to begin damage assessment. "Hams will start working with damage assessment teams at 7:30 AM and will be moving from home to home through the disaster area," he said. Operators will need good footwear, a two-meter radio, and batteries to last at least 10 hours. Volunteers should contact the Red Cross, 405 232-7121.

OK Public Information Coordinator Thomas Webb, WA9AFM, reports he's monitored health-and-welfare traffic on both 2 meters and 75 meters coordinating Salvation Army canteen support.


Owners survey a damaged home.

Owners survey a damaged home.

"Based on the excellent warning, most of the victims appear to have left the disaster area prior to the strike and were in contact with friends or family or were in shelters with adequate communications," he said.

Webb reports that several hams were among those affected by the storm. "Mac MacDonald, K2GKK, was wiped out," he reports. "Hal Miller, KB1ZQ, received severe damage, but the house survived" although Miller's tower was reduced to "an aluminum pretzel," Webb said. Other hams have taken in the displaced families, he said.

Jim Leist, KB5W, who chairs the Central Area Staff of the National Traffic System, said ARES and National Traffic System operators are trying--unsuccessfully in some cases--to contact people in the affected area. He reports that, instead of sending a "no response" message back, operators are attaching "op notes" to unserviceable messages indicating such things as "left message on answering machine," which tells the inquiring party that the telephone is intact, or "address given is on edge of damage area" and "checked shelters, not listed."

Melvin Miller, K5KXL, reports he was not affected by the tornadoes, but he's among those who are overwhelmed by the degree of damage and the number of deaths, which could reach 50. "You cannot imagine the distraction of the areas in Norman, and the path that the tornadoes left through Tuttle," he said. "At present they have machinery in there lifting the rubble and looking for victims after a careful hand search by emergency personnel."

David Sterley, K5WFT, in Wichita Falls, Texas, reports that Terry Mahorney, KB5LLI and Troy Fehring, N5VIN, were among the dedicated hams in the South West Independent Repeater Association who maintained contact with the National Weather Service office in Norman as the storms approached. "I think these hams are deserving of some recognition for their diligence!" he said. "My hat's off to all the hams and meteorologists at the NWS office in Norman for their dedication to Amateur Radio and the SKYWARN spotter groups in their area of coverage."

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Revised: 04/29/15 09:12:16 -0700.