For 41 years, Gary England was the chief meteorologist for KWTV, the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City owned by Griffin Communications. In fair weather, his folksy persona endeared him to the community. During tornadoes, his warnings undoubtedly saved viewers lives. “My family and I was in the tornado on May 3, 1999. We just sat there […]
For 41 years, Gary England was the chief meteorologist for KWTV, the CBS affiliate in Oklahoma City owned by Griffin Communications.
In fair weather, his folksy persona endeared him to the community.
During tornadoes, his warnings undoubtedly saved viewers lives.
“My family and I was in the tornado on May 3, 1999. We just sat there for what seemed like the longest time. It wasn’t until you said, ‘get underground’ that we took it seriously,” wrote Anne Rose in an email.
England remembers that day very well.
“The May 3, 1999, tornado turned out to be the strongest winds ever made on the face of the earth.”
Actually, says England, on that day in Oklahoma, “We had 70 [tornados] in one day and there were a lot of really big ones, really deadly tornados.”
Annee Rose’s description of what took place after hearing England’s warning is chilling.
“Everyone started running around and yelling. As we were running to the cellar next door we looked behind us. It was huge and moving very quickly. While in the cellar, we all began to pray, seven people and two dogs. Some say a tornado sounds like a train, but in my opinion there is nothing to compare the sound to. All of the sudden it was silent. You could have heard a pin drop. The worst was over, so we thought. It took them about two hours to dig us out from under the debris. Thank you for saving the lives of many Oklahomans.”
England said that in those 41 years, while on the air during tornadoes, he didn’t think much about how his warnings might actually be saving some lives, he was just too busy working.
But now that he’s retired, he has more time to savor what viewers say to him in person or in letters and emails.
“Any time I run into anybody they have stories to tell and some quite emotional. I was down at a restaurant there in Moore and there was a gal there who was one of the teachers in one of the classrooms that lost several kids, and you want to talk about emotional — for her and for me. It was unbelievable.”
England’s referring to the F5 2013 tornado in Moore that obliterated neighborhoods and killed 24 people, including seven children at an elementary school.
“It’s really nice that I’ve made some contribution. It does come up. I do think about it, yeah.”
When England left KWTV in 2016, viewers were heart-broken, even scared.
Shannon emailed: “No, you can’t leave us, who will protect us now, who Gary?”
“Such a sad day for me. We love you, Weather God!” said Kiki.
Bryan pondered a tornado season without England being there. “I’m scared of next year’s tornado season already.”
Jeremy wrote to congratulate England on his outstanding career. “You truly made the field of meteorology better & helped 2 save 1000s of lives along the way.”
In 1990 he helped create First Warning, the state map that commonly appears today in the corner of the television screen with counties colored in to indicate storm watches and warnings.
England also helped create Storm Tracker, a computer program providing the arrival time of severe weather.
“I came at the right time, right place,” said England, “and [had] good people around me and everything clicked.”
In addition to his meteorological scientific contributions, England’s been featured in pop culture. He was a consultant to the movie, Twister, and appeared in a cameo.
A station promo was mocked by Jon Stewart on The Daily Show.
“Listen to Gary England — or your children will die!”
And there’s even a drinking game named after him.
England said he got interested in the weather as a first grader growing up in Enid, Okla., about 100 miles north of Oklahoma City.
“I remember my Dad saying hey, there’s going to be a bad storm or a bad tornado out west, and that was the night of the Woodward tornado.” The Woodward tornado of April 9, 1947, still ranks as the deadliest ever to hit Oklahoma, leaving 185 dead in its wake.
“I call it increasing my shelf life.”
But England is proud of his television longevity now that he’s semi-retired.
“The same job for 41 years, that’s pretty special of a miracle.”
A miracle appreciated by many viewers.
“On May 3rd, 1999, I was coaching my son’s baseball team. Your warnings saved us all, including my dad, who was in the direct path of that monster,” wrote Grant.
Kimberly wrote: “You are still my hero for your coverage of the May 3, 1999, tornado. It’s not often you can say, this man is the reason I’m alive.”