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National Severe Weather Workshop Showcases Storm Spotting, Doppler Radar

(NORMAN) - It didn't quite come equipped with the glossy special effects of the film Twister, but hundreds of storm prediction professionals, weather forecasters and enthusiasts didn't seem to mind.

Part workshop, part exhibition featuring dozens of storm-detecting gadgets and gizmos, the second annual national severe weather workshop drew about 300 professionals and amateurs Friday eager to talk twisters, wall clouds and storm readiness.

``This meeting marries researchers, weather officials, storm spotters and broadcasters,'' said Rick Smith, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Norman. ``And Norman is the perfect city for that to happen.''

Aside from Washington, D.C. and Boulder, Colo., Norman has more meteorologists and weather research professionals than any other city in the United States, said Keli Tarp, spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Scheduled to speak during the two-day event are retired Air Force Brig. Gen. Jack Kelly, director of the National Weather Service, Weather Channel severe weather expert John Scala and Dennis McCarthy, director of the National Weather Service central region.

Many weather professionals praised the mutual work of professional broadcasters, meteorologists and volunteer storm spotters for alerting towns about the deadly tornadoes that whipped across Oklahoma on May 3, 1999.

``May 3 was just about as well-handled of an event as it could get,'' Smith said. ``It was a total partnership in existence to protect life and property.''

Tarp said without timely warnings from legions of volunteer storm spotters, forecasters and media members, the tornadoes could have killed as many as 600 people.

Tommy Thornton, a storm spotter for 18 years in his hometown of Burkburnett, Texas, said the movie Twister sent the wrong message to many severe storm enthusiasts.

``There's a difference between storm spotting and storm chasing,'' said Thornton, who's dispatched as many as 50 spotters in his county during severe weather. ``A lot of people who go out and chase these things get in our way.''

Thornton, who's logged seven-hour severe weather stakeouts and followed funnel clouds and shape-shifting storm walls, said his business is one of patience and determination.

``A lot of people think they'll go out and see a tornado every time,'' he said. ``The truth is, it's lots and lots of patience and more misses than hits.''

Jerry Barber, president of Houston-based AlerTec, attracted techno-savvy crowds in between seminar sessions. Barber's product, a tornado warning system that signals a homeowner's smoke detector to go off when severe weather approaches, is one of dozens showcased at the workshop.

``We monitor the severe weather near your home a lot like a security company would monitor your home,'' said Barber, who has begun marketing his $149.99 product in the Oklahoma City area. ``Thirty seconds after we get the storm coordinates from the National Weather Service, we're able to let our customers know about it.''

With the success of this year's seminar, plans are under way to extend the seminar to three days in 2003, Tarp said.
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