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History Of Our Office
National Weather Service - Norman, Oklahoma

Jump to the Weather Highlights in Our Office's History

The National Weather Service essentially began on October 1, 1890 when Congress passed an act creating the U.S. Weather Bureau underneath the Department of Agriculture. A Weather Bureau office began operating in Oklahoma City at the Overholser Opera House on November 1, 1890. This opera house was located on the southeast corner of the intersection of Robinson and Grand. Eventually, Grand became known as Sheridan Avenue, and the Overholser Opera House became known as the Orpheum Theater, long after the Weather Bureau had moved. This theater was eventually demolished in 1964, and now the Cox Convention Center is situated in that location.

Pictures from the Overholser Opera House. From left to right: The Overholser Opera House building, instruments on top of the roof, and the instruments from a different angle.

After the Overholser Opera House, the Weather Bureau office in Oklahoma City moved to the Culbertson Building, which was located on the southeast corner of Broadway and Grand in Oklahoma City, just down the street from the old office. The new office began officially operating there on July 1, 1902. The Weather Bureau office only lasted in the Culbertson Building until January 16, 1906. The reason for the move was a brand new Weather Bureau Observatory, built at 1923 Classen Boulevard in Oklahoma City. This weather observatory was one of a special new class of 47 observatories being built across the United States.

From left to right: The Culbertson Building, the Department of Agriculture building at 1923 Classen, and a Google Map of the early locations of the Weather Bureau Offices.

Back in the days of the Weather Bureau Observatory, it served as both an observatory, and a residence for the Section Chief. This is evident in the picture below, which shows a clothesline hanging from the temperature shelter to the building on the south lawn. The office on Classen Boulevard was north of downtown Oklahoma City, in a fairly residential area. The building still exists to this day.


A picture from April 1934 courtesy of NOAA and the Oklahoma Climate Survey of the Weather Bureau Observatory in Oklahoma City.

In 1932, a Weather Bureau office opened up at Will Rogers Airport on the southwest side of Oklahoma City. This office officially opened on April 2, 1932 and began the gradual transition away from the Weather Bureau Observatory on Classen Boulevard. The new office was located in the Administration Building at Will Rogers Field. Initially observations remained at the Weather Bureau Observatory, but by 1951 the number of observations taken there were substantially reduced. Below are a series of pictures from the Administration Building at Will Rogers Airport.

From left to right: The Administration building at Will Rogers Airport, the building from another angle, and a later picture after a control tower had been added to the terminal building.

From left to right: The office in the Administration Building, another angle of the office, and an optical theodolite on the roof of the building.

The office was located at Will Rogers Airport in some fashion until January 26, 1987. A new Weather Bureau Building was built at the airport to just house the Weather Bureau Office. The Weather Bureau office relocated there on October 22, 1965. By 1967, the U.S. Weather Bureau had been renamed the National Weather Service. Below is a picture of this new building that was constructed at the airport.


The National Weather Service office located at Will Rogers Airport from 1965 to 1987.

On January 27, 1987, the National Weather Service office in Oklahoma City relocated to Norman, Oklahoma. It was located at Max Westheimer Airport in a building built specifically for the NWS office. By 1997, the Storm Prediction Center (SPC, previously named the Severe Local Storm Warning Center and located in Kansas City) had moved to Norman and was co-located with the National Weather Service office there. The National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL) was also in the building. This building at Max Westheimer, and also located on what is sometimes referred to as the "north campus of the University of Oklahoma", is pictured below along with other pictures of the office.

From left to right: The NOAA Weather Center at night, the "PUP" - Principal User Processor, and forecasters working at computer workstations. The last two pictures were taken circa September 1990.

From left to right: The operations area of the forecast office, an upper air balloon release, and a daytime picture of the NOAA Weather Center.

On August 7, 2006, the National Weather Service Forecast Office began the move to a new building on the University of Oklahoma's South Research Campus in Norman, Oklahoma. The office began operations in the new building on August 10, 2006. The "National Weather Center" is located along Highway 9 on the south side of Norman. The Storm Prediction Center and National Severe Storms Laboratory also moved to the new National Weather Center that summer. For more details, you can visit the page with information on our current office.


Weather Highlights

Through the years that it was in place, the Weather Bureau and National Weather Service Forecast Office in Norman/Oklahoma City has had to forecast and respond to some significant weather events, and has been a part of some major weather stories. A few of these weather stories grabbed national, or even international, headlines. Below is a bullet point list of a few of the major weather stories from November 1, 1890 to present day.

  • May 10, 1905: A violent tornado struck the town of Snyder in the Oklahoma Territory. The official death toll is 97, making it the 2nd most deadly tornado in Oklahoma history, and one of the most deadly tornadoes in US history.

  • October 13-16, 1923: Severe flooding along the North Canadian River in Oklahoma City caused a breach in the Lake Overholser Dam. This flooding forced the evacuation of about 15,000 residents.

  • March 1924 Heavy snowfall for the month almost statewide. Alva had 37 inches on the month. Even Norman logged 2 feet of snow, and Oklahoma City measured 20.3 inches for the month.

  • February to April 1935 Severe dust storms impacted parts of the state. On April 10-11, a widespread dust storm swept across most of the state, reducing visibilities as low as a city block. The famous "Black Sunday" dust storm on April 14th was one of the most severe ever in the region. It impacted mainly northwest Oklahoma. Visibilities were zero from Kenton to Arnett and lasted about an hour.

  • June 12, 1942 The most deadly tornado on record in the Oklahoma City area until the May 3, 1999 F5 tornado. The funnel cut a twisting, erratic path through the SW part of OKC. 73 homes were destroyed and 31 damaged, with most of the damage in the 27-29th Street areas between Portland and Goff Avenues.

  • April 9, 1947 The most deadly tornado to ever strike within the borders of the state of Oklahoma hit Woodward at 8:42pm. Over 100 city blocks on the west and north sides of the city were destroyed with lesser damage in the southeast portion of the town. Confusion and fires reigned in the aftermath with over 1000 homes and businesses destroyed, at least 107 people killed in and around Woodward, and nearly 1000 additional injuries.

  • March 20 & 25, 1948 The famously "first correct tornado forecast" by Air Force weather officers E.J. Fawbush and R.C. Miller. A tornado struck Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City on March 20th. Noticing similar conditions on March 25th, Fawbush and Miller correctly forecast conditions favorable for another tornado on March 25th.

  • May 25, 1955 An F5 tornado hit the town of Blackwell, Oklahoma. For more, visit the NWS Norman Writeup on the event.

  • February 21-22, 1971 A blizzard struck Northwest Oklahoma. Buffalo received 36 inches of snow, a state record for storm total snowfall.

  • June 24, 1973 A tornado strikes Union City, Oklahoma. NSSL storm chase teams intercept and document the entire life cycle of a tornado for the first time. Click here for the NSSL story.

  • October 11, 1973 15.68 inches of rain falls at Enid in 13 hours, setting the Oklahoma's daily and 24-hour rainfall records. 12 inches of the rainfall fell in only 3 hours leading to severe flash flooding.

  • April 10, 1979 The famous "Red River Valley Tornado Outbreak" in which numerous tornadoes struck North Texas and Southern Oklahoma. The most notable tornado was the large, wide F4 tornado that struck Wichita Falls, Texas. This tornado was famously a large black wedge.

  • Summer of 1980 Brutal heat occurred during this period, with the temperatures at Oklahoma City topping the century mark 50 times.

  • December 1987 to January 1988 A series of significant winter storms impacted the area. On December 13-15, 1987, a snowstorm impacted the northwestern half of Oklahoma with 8-14 inches of snow and drifts up to 4 feet. On December 25-27, 1987, a severe ice storm occurred along a 40-mile wide, populated stretch from Duncan to Norman to Tulsa. Ice accumulations of 1-2 inches on trees and power lines led to $10 MIL in damages. On January 5-7, 1988, another snowstorm impacted much of Oklahoma with around 10 inches of snow.

  • August 17, 1994 A severe thunderstorm produced large hail and destructive winds along a path from Manchester to Minco. The Oklahoma Mesonet site at Lahoma recorded a 113 mph wind gust before the anemometer failed.

  • October 4, 1998 A record-breaking, widespread, fall outbreak of 27 tornadoes occurred in the state of Oklahoma.

  • May 3, 1999 This weather event was one of the most famous tornado outbreaks in US history. The most notable tornado that occurred was the large, violent tornado that produced F5 damage in Moore, Midwest City, Del City and South Oklahoma City. Over 70 tornadoes occurred in 21 hours. 40 people were killed and over 600 were injured. Damages totaled over $1 billion.

  • October 9, 2001 This was another significant fall tornado outbreak that occurred in October across Oklahoma. Three tornadoes were rated an F3 on the Fujita Scale, impacting Elk City, Cordell, and the area around Gotebo.

  • August 19, 2007 The remnants of Tropical Depression Erin moved over the state of Oklahoma during the early morning hours of August 19, 2007. The area of low pressure rapidly deepens on a small scale, producing strong gradient winds around Watonga. Severe weather and widespread flooding occurred across parts of the region.

  • December 8-11, 2007 A significant winter storm impacted the region for several days. Freezing rain accumulated on trees and power lines, causing widespread power outages and damage. Hundreds of auto accidents also occurred.

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