The National Weather Center and Lake Dirtybird

National Weather Center (click image for slideshow)

Thursday’s Thanksgiving 2011 would be at my folks’ in Oklahoma City, so I searched for a nearby trail I could hike before arriving Wednesday evening, when I would be taking them out for a much-belated dinner to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

I lived in Norman, just south of Oklahoma City, from 1984 to 1988 while I earned my bachelor’s degree at the University of Oklahoma. While there I had driven out to Lake Thunderbird, but I’d never spent any meaningful time there. We always called it Lake Dirtybird because the red dirt in this cross timbers area of the state makes the water anything but clear, and I only noticed at the time that the lake was often packed with jet skis and boats plying the muddy waters. My Oklahoma Hiking Trails book showed that one could rack up plenty of miles on the Clear Bay bike trails on the southeastern shore of the lake.

I mentioned this destination on Facebook and Daphne Thompson, who as Daphne Fontenot was a student in my physics course way back when I first started teaching in 1989-90, suggested I drop by the National Weather Center just a few miles west of the lake. She is a meteorologist whose work at OU included storm chasing before she took some time off to raise her kids, and she now does educational outreach for the big weather center’s government branch.

So the next morning I drove through fog to Tulsa and along parts of the Turner Turnpike. The skies were clear as I turned away from the monstrous new Devon Tower being constructed in downtown Oklahoma City and I was soon in south Norman, pulling up to the big National Weather Center building. It was completed in 2006 and adorned with an observation lounge and a huge UHF antenna, which Daphne later told me is a backup link to the National Hurricane Center in Florida.

Daphne met me when I signed in and I was charmed to see how she still looks so much like she did as a student. I have not fared nearly so well! She took me to the immense atrium where she showed off their nifty Science on a Sphere display. Then she took me up to the observation deck where I could look out miles across the plain on the warm sunny day – no fog was left although there was some haze.

Our next stop was the always-manned Storm Prediction Center, origin of all of the severe weather watches across the lower 48 states. One of the meteorologists was looking at a website with a big Devon graphic, making me wonder if that tower is so big it now has its own weather system.

Nearby is the Norman National Weather Service Forecast Center, which serves the western and central portion of our state. It has a bank of wall displays which includes the three major network broadcast channels so that the meteorologists can verify their warnings are being displayed and see the weather field reports the news channels produce. A couple of actors on one channel were smooching away, but the meteorologist nearby was having none of that soap opera.

I greatly enjoyed the tour and the chance to meet Daphne in person again after all of these years. It is such a treat to see the contributions former students like her are making.

I then drove east to hike at the inappropriately named Clear Bay area of Lake Thunderbird State Park. I can’t imagine Dirtybird has ever had a clear bay! At the nearby trailhead there was a big trail map which was far more accurate than the one I’d seen online. I would walk portions of the green, red, yellow, and blue trails this day.

The trails were dirt ruts leading through the sandy soil of the cross timbers oak trees. Sometimes the bikes had ground down a deep wide groove. There was only a bit of color left on the mostly denuded trees, and I was grateful when the winding trails finally approached the lake’s south shore, breaking the monotony.

The trail then led back into the woods for an eventual return to the lake. I was tired of the winding monotony of the bike trails, so I followed an old road north to the restaurant on the south shore, which was closed for the season. I took park roads over to an open camping area, looking for the Clear Bay hiking trail. Unable to locate it, I headed south on the park road until I found a side trail which led over to the hiking trail and crossed a dry stream on a bridge that looked to me like it had been built of oversized Lincoln Logs.

I reached the Nature Center and went out on a nearby fishing dock, stranded by the receding waters of the lake, and then followed the park road back to the bike trailhead, having walked 8.25 miles. I had few photographs from the hike, but at least I got some exercise to prepare me for the evening dinner and Mom’s cooking on Thanksgiving Day, for which I am always thankful.

Click here for a slideshow from this day trip

About Granger Meador

I enjoy day hikes, photography, podcasts, reading, web design, and technology. My wife Wendy and I work in the Bartlesville Public Schools in northeast Oklahoma, but this blog is outside the scope of our employment.
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