Spring break was great! We flew into the Oklahoma City Airport to start the trip. The first badge of the trip was Weather Merit Badge with Mr. Jim Ladue. He works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration at OU. I was able to visit the Severe Storms Lab Building site in Norman, OK. Due to covid restrictions, I was not able to go into the labs but there were so many great things to see outside!!
I learned a lot of the badge in a Zoom classroom before arriving. This allowed me to see how the radar looks on the screens and see what weathermen do in their daily job. I found that part of the badge very interesting especially because my brother works in weather for the USMC.
When I got to OU it was even better though! We were able to walk around the different radar areas and Mr. Jim taught me the history of how severe weather tracking occurred. Did you know that it all started with a tornado at Tinker Airforce Base in OKC in 1948? There was a tornado that did a lot of damage to military aircraft. According to Mr. Jim, the General was pretty upset and he told the meteorologists that they needed to figure out how to predict tornados before another cause more damage. They didn’t have equipment for that at the time and forecasting was pretty basic even for any weather patterns. Well, a few days later, some meteorologists noticed that they were seeing exactly the same kind of conditions as they had the days before… making them think MAYBE there was going to be another tornado. They knew if they were wrong, they would get into big trouble and be laughing stocks. They took the chance anyway… and went to the General and told him. He ordered all of the aircraft moved to another location and it was done in under 24 hours. On March 25, another tornado DID hit Tinkers and there were no injuries and less monetary damage than there would have been.
It could be said that Oklahoma University is the birthplace of severe weather forecasting as we know it. Two students came back after graduation and spent their careers developing the program. It has continued to grow. The campus now holds a one-of-a-kind weather center that has federal, state and academics in one place to further advance the science. It is an awesome place to visit, and I hope to get back during more normal times so I can visit inside.
We also visited some memorials while in OKC. The first, was a visit to The Plaza Towers Elementary School. On May 20, 2013 a tornado hit killing seven children. The memorial is very moving. It was finished in November 2014. There are seven benches; each bench has the name of the child and characteristic of each child's personality and interests. There are gray and mahogany granite plaques decorated with silhouettes of the students. The school was rebuilt as a “safe” area and Mr. Jim as part of designing the safety features. If there is ever another tornado there, the students will be safe.
The last place we visited in OKC was the site of the Oklahoma City Bombing. My parents remember the bombing from when it happened. For me though, the site was beautiful and peaceful. Most of the original buildings were torn down because of damage, but some walls remain. The most moving thing to me was the Gates of Time. One is marked 9:01 the last moment of peace; one is marked 9:02 the moment of destruction; and the last is 9:03 the moment recovery began. Seeing how people thought about recovery was inspiring. The 168 empty chairs were a vivid reminder of the people that died, especially the smaller chairs for the children from the day care. I left a BSA patch on the Memorial Fence. I sat by the Reflecting pool and listened quietly. The Survivor Tree was surprising. To see a tree that survived in the middle of all the destruction reminds us of hope. Hope of God’s love, His plan and His healing. We spent a lot of time at the memorial, and I am glad we went. While I don’t know about the bombing itself, it was a reminder that when bad things happen, we can come together as a community and make a beautiful thing.
I enjoyed my time in OKC even though much of it was about bad things – whether they were severe storms or man’s actions. Those bad things turn into stories of perseverance, strength and humanity. I highly encourage you to visit.