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Gary England: Not a god, but almost a legend

Photo: Bill McCullough for The New York Times

It may only be of local interest, this story of an Oklahoma meteorologist. And its title, “The Weather God of Oklahoma City,” may be a bit exaggerated — although not by much. Still, this behind-the-scenes look at Gary England is a good read. New York Times writer Sam Anderson captures, far better than I ever have, the excitement of local weather coverage in OKC when tornadoes are smashing their way across the state. And it’s a wonderful, well deserved tribute to a man who, although I wouldn’t call him a god, has certainly been the king of Oklahoma meteorologists throughout my adult years.

Gary and his colleagues have been the gold standard in tornado technology, forecasting, and tracking for most of my life. They’ve been so far ahead of the pack that they made severe weather forecasting in other states look amateurish by comparison. To this day I feel vulnerable without them.

When I lived in Atlanta for a few years in the early ’70s, Georgia got its share of tornadoes. But back then there was no local radar, no local tornado tracking or forecasting. The only warnings came from the National Weather Service in Kansas City, hundreds of miles away. Not exactly pinpoint accuracy or up-to-the-minute forecasting.

And here in Denver, although radar has gotten much more sophisticated and meteorologists better informed, we still get a lot of warnings that come because the general public has reported seeing “tornadoes.” And more often than not their “tornadoes” turn out to be rain shafts or dust devils or just outflow and turbulence from nearby thunderstorms. Yet our programming is interrupted by all kinds of beep…beep…beep warnings based on those reports. I know the local stations are doing their best to keep us safe and that tornadoes are not their strong suit, but still, it’s frustrating.

In any case, the New York Times article is a wonderful tribute to Gary England. And it concludes with, I’m sad to say, the news that at age 73, Gary is retiring. At the end of this month, according to other sources. I wish him all the best and thank him for all the decades during which he kept me, my family, and my fellow Oklahomans informed and safe.

I won’t, however, bet that he stays home munching nachos next spring when the first big storm develops.


Update: Well, I knew he wouldn’t be home on the sofa. Turns out he’s just movin’ on to a corporate position, vice president for corporate relations and weather development for Griffin Communications. Wouldn’t be surprised if that means he’ll still be in the same building, probably right down the hall from the studio. Just in case …

Sept. 5, 2013: The legend grows. England was a guest on The Colbert Report last night.


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