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‘What I could have done differently,’ Weather service forecaster haunted by May 20 loss

MOORE, Okla. – Even a year later, weather experts continue to learn from May 20, 2013.

As weather turns severe and before the sirens blare, meteorologists are buzzing, preparing for Mother Nature’s worst.

When it comes to large tornadoes threatening the metro, Scott Curl seems to be the lead warning forecaster at the National Weather Service in Norman.

Curl said, “I’m an Okie. I’m an Okie born and bred for sure.”

There have been a handful of large, deadly tornadoes in our state during Curl’s 20 year career at the weather service.

On May 3, 1999, he knew he was tracking a monster in the making.

He said, “We knew this thing was coming toward Oklahoma City and we knew how big it was and how violent it was and the potential this thing had to make significant damage if it stayed on the ground. And it looked like it was going to. We thought, no one has done this before but this was going to get somebody’s attention.”

On May 3, 1999, the National Weather Service issued the first Tornado Emergency.

Since then, it’s only been issued three other times; May 8, 2003; May 20, 2013 and May 31, 2013.

On May 20, it had been 10 years since a Tornado Emergency had been issued.

On that day, Curl worked the day shift and found himself in the same situation he had been in numerous times.

He said, “Scott, this is your storm. You focus on this one. There’s other storms developing. We’ll have other people worry about those, you focus on this one. It’s yours.”

The tornado originally formed in Newcastle, threatening his family.

He said, “I knew I had the tornado warning out, so my initial thought process really quickly changed from warning forecaster to dad.”

His cell phone rang and he soon learned his daughters locked themselves out of the safe room as the tornado developed nearby.

He said, “So I’m thinking, ‘You did what?’ ‘We cannot get in the safe room. Where’s the key?’ Well in the midst of this I thought, ‘I don’t know where the key is.”

His daughters survived but Curl watched helplessly as the monster tornado charged the City of Moore.

Curl said, “And growing up here, again that’s my family, that’s my friends, that’s my neighbors and so, trying to do everything humanly possible to make sure everyone is here tomorrow. And knowing, that’s probably not going to happen.”

Scott Curl says he relies on his faith during quiet moments of prayer.

However, the heaviness of tragedy still weighs on his shoulders.

He said, “That’s always the tough part for me. People always tell me, ‘You saved hundreds of people’s lives.’ But on May 3rd, we lost 42 and on May 20th, we lost 24. So I always go back, and just my personality, I just think about what I could have done differently that those people could be here today.”

After last year’s tornado outbreak, the National Weather Service provided counseling for its employees for the first time in its history.

Officials say they plan on doing it again, as needed.