The local weather forecast you got this morning. The tornado warnings you heard yesterday. The minute-by-minute tracking of storm locations delivered by news reporters. They all began with a team of meteorologists and weather observers at the National Weather Service Office in Fort Worth.
The nerve center is a large rectangular room with giant TV monitors plastered to the wall. About 10 meteorologists and weather observes sit before screens which are pulsing with brightly colored radar images.
Tuesday around 1 p.m. it’s quiet. It’s the quiet before the storm.
“Right now the biggest concern is about 50 miles west of the FW area,” said meteorologist Nick Hampshire.
He’s evaluating the images and data that result in the local weather forecasts you hear on the radio, the tornado watches that flash across television sets, the warnings that activate weather sirens and save people’s lives.
Less than 24 hours before a powerful E-5 tornado left a trail of death and debris in Oklahoma. Conditions are now ripe for severe weather in North Texas so Hampshire is on his toes.
“You see these storms and you know bad things are going to happen so you want to convey that message as quickly as possible to the public of North Texas,” he said.
At the desk next to Hampshire meteorologist Mark Fox is tweeting out the first severe thunderstorm warning of the day.
“The last tweet was about hail heading for Stephens County,” he explained.
Fox handles social media for the 46 counties covered by this National Weather Service office where the recent blast of bad weather has generated a surge of followers.
The Facebook page for this operation has had an increase of some 3700 users in the past day. The twitter following more than doubled.
Ham radio operators- volunteers- are also at work. Mike Heskett will be talking to spotters as today’s storm rolls through.
“We’ll be on the same frequency as the spotters in the field are on so we can give them information and they can feed back what they are actually seeing in the field,” Heskett explained.
“What they look at on radar doesn’t tell you what’s actually on the ground at that current time. It takes those spotters with eyes actually looking out there to see what actually is happening,” he said.
Tom Bradshaw, the meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service operation in Fort Worth, couldn’t agree more.
“We really couldn’t do our job effectively without storm spotters and the vast majority of them are just regular citizens,” he said.
Bradshaw says everyone here has a specific job and the quiet pace at this moment becomes frenetic when Mother Nature delivers the kind of weather that ripped through Granbury last week.
“We were putting a lot of warnings out at one time; doing a lot of social media; chatting with emergency managers; just trying to drive information out of these walls into the hands of people who can use it,” said Bradshaw.
Bradshaw says his team can see danger long before it arrives and he finds himself bracing for the damage it may leave behind
“It comes home to you when you go out and do surveys the next day and you walk among the damaged homes and the slabs and you see the power of nature and what it can do to peoples’ lives,” he said.
They can’t stop the severe weather but the National Weather Service makes it their mission to give millions of citizens the information they need to take cover and remain safe.