16 Minutes

For the people of Moore, Okla., that was the difference between life and death

Photograph by Alonzo Adams / AP

Correction Appended: May 23, 2013

Rick Smith's job is to save lives, and he knew when he clocked in at 7 a.m. on Monday, May 20, that it was going to be a very dangerous day. More than 40 screens and monitors glowed in the horseshoe-shaped command center, and menace radiated from every one. Data from radar, hovering satellites and surveillance devices covering thousands of square miles all pointed to one conclusion: conditions were perfect for a monster tornado.

As warning coordinator for the National Weather Service in Norman, Okla., Smith is the meteorologist responsible for triggering alarms across some...

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