Weather, Science and More on the OU Campus - MetroFamily Magazine
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Weather, Science and More on the OU Campus

by Karen Mitchell

Reading Time: 3 minutes 

Mesonet, Doppler, and mesocyclone are just a few of the terms Oklahomans have become very familiar with during busy storm seasons, courtesy of our local meteorologists. If you have a teen or tween who exhibits a proficiency in math, an interest in science or just a curiosity about weather, a tour of the National Weather Center (NWC) on the OU campus may spark an interest in meteorology.

Raised in Oklahoma, I’ve always been fascinated with the weather. My father used to take my siblings and me out to watch the billowing thunderstorms that usually form in the west. I once entertained the idea of becoming a meteorologist until I found out how much math was involved; alas, I went into journalism. Nevertheless, weather still interests me.

I recently took my visiting family on a free tour of the National Weather Center. The short 90-minute tour is informative for any teen or tween considering a career in atmospheric science (or for parents who just want to see where the storm predictions originate).

“Meterology is literally nothing more than physics applied to the atmosphere,” explained our student tour guide, Chris Squitieri. The OU School of Meteorology is one of the most popular in the country with enrollment exploding after the popular 1996 movie, Twister, Squitieri explained. But the program is not for the faint-hearted. Out of an average of 110 freshmen who enter the program each year, only 20-30 will graduate. But, he explains, the foundation is a good start for many other science degree programs, should a student decide to change direction.

After a short introduction and roll call (advanced reservations are required), the tour begins at the National Severe Storms Laboratory vehicle area for a viewing of some of the severe weather vehicles and instruments used for storm research. As Squitieri explained, the NWC does not “storm chase” as we often see on television. Rather, the NWC is responsible for research to learn what causes severe storms. “All instrumentation has to be constructed in our lab, it’s not store bought,” he said.

After viewing actual Twister movie props on loan from Warner Brothers Studios including “Dorothy” and “D.O.T.3” (you’ll have to watch the movie or visit the museum if you don’t know what those are), we made our way to the fifth floor glass-enclosed observation deck. “After you warn us to stay away from windows, you guys sit up here and watch the storms?” one visitor mused. While a great place to view developing storms, students and staff do heed their own warnings to take cover when necessary, Squitieri acknowledged, though storm-watching can be hypnotizing.

The tour ends at the Storm Prediction Center (SPC) and National Weather Service (NWS). This is the area you see on television where meteorologists are on 24-hour watch viewing multiple computer monitors with colorful displays. Their job is looking for the ingredients of severe weather in a 56-county region. The SPC sends out those all-familiar weather watches indicating that conditions are favorable for a storm. The NWS sends out the warnings that indicate a storm is in progress or imminent.

Once the tour is complete, visitors are welcome to talk to staff for more information on the School of Meteorology program. As for me, I’ll stick to writing and allow the math-savvy folks to keep me informed about impending severe weather.

Tours are available Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at 1:00pm. The Flying Cow Café located in the building is a great place to eat lunch, but go before your tour as it will be closed when you are finished. To make advanced tour reservations, call 405-325-6892 or visit the website at .

More Fun in Norman

Spend a day on the OU campus. Combine your NWC tour with either of these venues:

  • Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History—2401 Chautauqua Ave405-325-4712,
    Open Monday-Saturday, 10:00am-5:00pm; Sunday, 1:00-5:00pm
    Cost: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 children, age five and younger are free, use your Kids Pass for a free child’s admission with a paid adult admission.
    Upcoming Exhibit—Wolf to Woof: The Story of Dogs digs into the nature and history of dogs and will be open October 1-January 8, 2012.
  • Fred Jones, Jr. Museum of Art—555 Elm Ave405-325-3272,
    Open Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00am-5:00pm (Friday until 9:00pm); Sunday 1:00-5:00pm
    Cost: $5 adults, $4 seniors, $3 children, $2 for OU staff/faculty, age five and under are free, free admission to all visitors each Tuesday.
    Upcoming Exhibit—Robert Rauschenberg: Prints from Universal Limited Art Editions, 1962-2008 will be open September 24-December 30.

Karen Mitchell, a lifelong resident of the Oklahoma City metro area, lives in Edmond with her husband, Mark, teenage son, Ryan, and one spoiled Welsh Corgi. Daughter, Megan, attends OSU in Stillwater.

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