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Local News

May 27, 2013

When tornadoes strike, Oklahomans trust veteran TV weatherman


Among the rules: If England mentions Pottawatomie County, baseball-size hail or the towns of Slaughterville, Weleetka or Mulhall, players take two drinks. If he says “mesocyclone,” that’s three drinks.

England’s crew of storm chasers who report from the field includes a young British man who saw his tornado broadcasts and moved with his mother to Oklahoma because he wanted to work with him. A husband-and-wife team who started a ministry called StormTrackers for Christ have been sending him reports for more than a decade. He keeps the contact information for his 10 or so storm chasers, who receive modest stipends, in a white binder labeled “The Book of Knowledge.”

But when the funnel clouds form, England is all business.

By 3:11 p.m. Monday he was reporting “total destruction to every home in (the tornado’s) path. There goes another house.” Two of his storm chasers, Val Castor and David Payne, called in to his broadcast, talking over each other.

“Gary, I see boards, I see roofs of houses,” Castor said. “Everything is flying through the air.”

“This is May 3, 1999, all over again,” Payne said. He then echoed a warning England made then — a warning that’s become famous throughout Oklahoma for its bluntness: “If you are not below ground, you will not survive.”

“Oh, my gosh,” England said.

England’s performance during the 1999 storm helped cement his reputation as a trusted source on tornado news. As the tornado approached Moore, which was also devastated by Monday’s tornado, he said, “You need to be below ground level to survive.”

The urgency in his voice that day prompted Lacey Swope’s father to pack up the family and flee in the car. The family had no storm cellar.

Years later, Swope was interviewing for an internship at Channel 9, and promptly forgot her prepared answers when England joined the interview.

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