When the wind comes sweepin' down the plain, the meteorologists at Norman's National Weather Center, 120 David L. Boren Blvd. on the University of Oklahoma campus, are on high alert to anticipate Mother Nature's sometimes-nasty moods.
Student-led tours take visitors into the heart of the facility's weather warning and storm forecasting nerve center for a firsthand look at the weather watchers in action. They explain how storm-prediction technologies save lives and how scientists are working on the next generation of weather tracking systems. Tours also visit the observation tower, which, at almost 180 feet tall, offers sweeping views of the surrounding areas.
There's even a bit of movie memorabilia for fans of the silver screen. Dorothy, the fictional tornado research machine so important to storm chasers Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton in the film "Twister," is on display alongside a real National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration TOTO (Totable Tornado Observatory) device.
Because of the center, private research organizations have flocked to Norman, making the city home to the third-largest concentration of meteorologists in the country.
"Our scientists and researchers greatly benefit by having experts from the federal, state and private sector areas in such close proximity to them," said Amy Buchanan, spokeswoman OU's College of Atmospheric & Geographic Sciences. "It allows everyone to more easily share information and collaborate with one another."
OU's School of Meteorology, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary, works in cooperation with the National Weather Center to provide future meteorologists with hands-on training and the opportunity to learn from experts in several fields. Be sure to ask the tour guide for the story behind the "pit of despair," where substandard class work is reportedly sacrificed to the weather gods.
It's no surprise OU's meteorology program is the largest the nation. Where better to study the weather than a place called tornado alley?
Free guided tours are offered at 1 p.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reservations are required, and advance reservations are suggested, as the tours fill up a few weeks in advance.
For more information, visit www.nwc.ou.edu.
Price writes online at www.travelblur.com.