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This document has been archived.

NSF Press Release


NSF PR PR 00-11 - March 22, 2000

Media contact:

 Cheryl Dybas

 (703) 292-8070

Program contact:

 Steve Nelson

 (703) 292-8524

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Stage Set for National Symposium on May 1999 Great Plains Tornadoes

Some of the most intense tornadoes on record ripped through parts of the southern Great Plains on May 3, 1999, devastating metropolitan areas and nearly destroying entire communities. Despite the ferocity of these storms, the number of deaths was remarkably low, due in large part to advanced storm detection and warning technology, effective information dissemination and rapid response by public safety and emergency officials.

Nearly one year later, a first-of-its-kind national symposium on these Great Plains storms is being held in Oklahoma City, Okla., funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF). The meeting will run from Apr. 30 through May 3. In this "National Symposium on the Great Plains Tornado Outbreak of May 3, 1999," meteorologists, public safety officials, wind engineers, medical and emergency personnel, disaster relief workers, social scientists, media, the insurance industry and shelter construction companies will converge in an effort to understand all facets of these powerful natural disasters.

Says Steve Nelson, program director in NSF's atmospheric sciences division, "Prior research helped immensely in lessening the impact of this tornado outbreak. Now we need to set our sights on even better forecasting."

The symposium will begin with a "safe room" exposition on Sunday, April 30. The exposition will be a free event open to the general public. Several private companies will be on hand to conduct demonstrations of safe room and underground shelter technology and to answer questions. Storm chase videos and vehicles also will be on display.

Over the following three days, experts will make presentations on a variety of topics, ranging from forecasting and observation technology to damage assessment and emergency response. Among those speaking are Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, who will honor those Oklahomans who died last May in the storm, and those whose lives were irreversibly changed by the tornadoes.

"Few of us will ever forget that devastating day last May," says Kelvin Droegemeier, meteorologist at the University of Oklahoma, and symposium chair. "But now we have an opportunity to learn from that event in order to be better prepared for the future."

Presentations and panel discussions during the three-day symposium will highlight the wide array of issues involved in a disaster of this magnitude, including Oklahoma Gas & Electric's response to the tornadoes, wind damage assessment, getting the message to the public, shelter technology and wind engineering, damage surveys, performance of the forecast, warning and response systems.

For more information, visit




National Science Foundation
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Arlington, Virginia 22230, USA
Tel: 703-292-8070
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