o n B u r g e s s
My name is Don Burgess and I am a meteorologist who trains other meteorologists. I was born in Okmulgee, OK (a small town south of Tulsa) in 1947. In 1952, our family moved to Stillwater, OK, and, in 1957, we moved to Oklahoma City where I attended high school. I grew up interested in the weather, and there was always plenty of it to see in our state! I got up each morning and looked out the window to observe the weather; I would come in from the playground to watch the weather on television (once my family got a television); and I read everything I could find on weather. My favorite book was Tornadoes of the United States, by Snowden D. Flora. I read and reread it many times. My younger-years fear of storms and tornadoes changed to interest and fascination with them. When I graduated from high school, I knew that I wanted to be a meteorologist and learn more about weather and storms/tornadoes. I began attending college at the University of Oklahoma (OU, in Norman) in 1967. While in high school, I was alone in my liking of weather and pursuit of information about it. After I began at OU, I learned that there were other people as fascinated with weather as I was. We called ourselves "weather freaks" because we wanted to be around weather observations and weather forecasting 24-hours-a-day.
I am Chief of the Operations Training Branch of the NEXRAD Operational Support Facility (OSF) in Norman, Oklahoma. NEXRAD is the acronym for the "NEXt generation weather RADar" program, a new United States Government network of 160 weather radars around the United States and at military bases in other parts of the world. NEXRAD Weather Surveillance Radars, 1988, Doppler (WSR-88Ds) supply radar information to three government agencies: the National Weather Service (NWS), the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA), and the Department of Defense (DOD; Air Force and Navy). Our branch trains NWS forecasters to operate the radars and to use the radar data (with other weather data) in the issuance of weather warnings and forecasts. Previously, we trained the forecasters only in residence courses here in Norman. Since 1998, we have begun using distance learning techniques (CD-ROMs, Teletraining, and the Internet) to train forecasters faster and with less interruption to their jobs: they now can stay at their forecast offices and receive the training during their normal workdays. Our challenge is to better train more forecasters, but with less available resources, money and people for training. I like being involved in training the forecasters, and then observing the excellent warnings and forecasts they issue, in part, from the training we gave them.
In 1970, before I graduated with a BS in Engineering (meteorology was in the School of Engineering in those days), I had the good fortune of getting a part-time student job at the National Severe Storms laboratory (NSSL), a Federal Government lab that had been established in the early 1960s to study thunderstorms and tornadoes. It was truly an event that changed my life. I was assigned to the newly-formed Doppler Radar Group, a group tasked with learning about warning/forecast applications of Doppler radar, a type of radar that had, up to that time, only been used in the United States for defense from missile and airplane attacks. I was able to grow and learn with the group of other eager young scientists.
After receiving my BS in 1971, I became a full-time NSSL employee in 1972 while studying for my MS in Meteorology, which I received in 1974. During the early and mid-1970s, our group collected the first Doppler radar data on tornadic storms, most notably in the Union City, OK tornado of 1973. We discovered that the NSSL research Doppler radar could see signatures for storm rotation (mesocyclone signatures) and signatures for tornadoes (Tornadic Vortex Signatures, TVSs), sometimes 20 to 30 minutes before the tornadoes formed and began doing damage. I was fascinated with the signatures and the thought that maybe they could provide better and more timely tornado warnings.