OWL was officially formed during the Fall of 1998, and was the idea of then-seniors Kevin Scharfenberg, Brian Good, and Kevin Manross. They discussed the idea with Dr. Fred Carr, who was more than willing to help out and provide funding. The SoM purchased the first OWL computer that year, and it was up and running by the end of the Spring of 1999. Shifts started that Spring as an introduction, to make sure everything would work, and formal shifts began in the Fall of 1999.
For most of the 1999-2000 school year, Christina Hannon headed up OWL, which was then passed on to Trisha Brune and Joshua Palmer near the end of the Spring 2000 semester. Under their leadership, the attendance of OWL increased while the program became more established in the OU community. The OU Daily, the OU student-run newspaper, started carrying the OWL forecasts, and OWL gained a second computer.
When Joshua Palmer and Trisha Brune graduated, Nathan Bain, Angela Beauchamp, Nicole Haglund, and Ryan Willis stepped up to take control. In Spring 2003, OWL got their own forecast room, complete with observation windows and its own Linux-powered weather server. In Summer 2003, OWL continued producing forecasts through the off-season for the first time, while Jim Southard joined OWL's officer corps after Angela Beauchamp graduated.
In Fall 2003, OWL restarted the tradition of having a mapwall, where students and faculty alike could get a look at a complete suite of current weather maps all housed on one wall. A video mapwall was added in Spring of 2004, where eight large screens interactively displayed current weather maps, observations, and imagery. Both mapwalls were housed within the Williams Forecasting Lab (room 1468 in the Sarkey's Energy Center), providing the School of Meteorology with copious and instantaneous data in one single, centralized location.
The winds of change swept OWL during its Fifth Anniversary year. Both Nicole Haglund and Nathan Bain graduated, and class commitments caused the departure of Ryan Willis. Jenifer Henslee joined the officer team, while Jim Southland pulled double duty in the interim. In Spring of 2005, Jim Southlard graduated and Megan Ferris, Phillip Hurlbut, and Chad Garneau came aboard, filling out the roster of officers, adding new enthusiasm and extra stability while setting the stage for OWL's forthcoming innovations. In early 2006 Tristan Baruth joined the team, bringing plenty of new life and ideas with him.
Fall 2006 was the start of a new era for OWL. Patrick Marsh, David Bodine, and Kevin Goebbert took control of the organization and led a series of reforms to bring new life to the organization. They recruited a group of enthusiastic freshmen, were heavily involved in many shifts, registered OWL as an official OU student organization, and expanded OWL's clients to May Fair and a soccer tournament. During the spring, Hoot members completely revamped the OWL site for the first time since OWL's inception, giving it the visual look that lasted until the website went down in 2015 and it was rebuilt in 2019.
In Fall 2007, rapid change continued to mold OWL. OWL's constitution was drafted and approved, creating a new officer structure and merging OWL with the Hoot project. The first elections under the new constitution made David John Gagne the president, Tim Marquis the vice president, and Travis Darling the secretary/treasurer. David Bodine and Luke Madaus directed operations while Kevin Goebbert and Chad Schafer directed development. The new OWL website made its public debut, and the enrollment process was moved online. Starting with that Thanksgiving and Christmas break, OWL resumed producing forecasts over the holidays. The spring semester featured many more changes taking effect. Regular shifts started on the first day of the semester for the first time in OWL's history. The first Norman podcasts were issued on the website. Joe Young created a more efficient and visually appealing Hoot site. OWL forecasts returned to the OU Daily. Winter weather and severe weather workshops were held for the membership. OWL T-shirts were also produced and sold for the first time.
By Fall 2008, OWL had matured, but more opportunities lay ahead. The officers from last year were all reelected, and Luke Madaus and Tim Supinie advanced to directors of operations and development with Alex Zwink and Joe Young handling the deputy duties. OWL's largest freshman class yet was inducted. OWL began producing podcast forecasts that were played on Island 107 FM in Key West, Florida. During this year, a new forecasting and user account system was being implemented to allow OWL shifts to be run completely electronically. During the spring, OWL began running an operational WRF model with output posted on the Hoot site. To handle the large number of duties, a set of standing committees was created. These included committees on Numerical Weather Prediction, Activities, Outreach, Verification, and a committee dedicated to forecasting and nowcasting outdoor events. The Committee on Adverse Weather (CAW) provided weather support for Medieval Fair, May Fair, and OU Commencement. Elections at the end of the year brought in a new crew of officers. Alex Lamers became president, Keith Sherburn became vice president, and Jessica Erlingis took over as secretary/treasurer. Alex Zwink and Tim Supinie managed operations and development, while Lamont Bain and Andrew MacKenzie were their respective deputy directors.
Throughout the Fall of 2009, OWL's role in the OU community continued to evolve. For the first time, OWL's Outreach/Activities Committee participated in OU's freshman orientation events in order to advertise the new OU Campus Forecasts Facebook page. The OU Campus Forecasts page was an instant hit, gaining hundreds of fans within the first month of its inception. During the winter storms of the 2009-2010 season, OWL forecasters provided live blogs on the OU Campus Forecasts page to keep students updated on changing weather conditions. Meanwhile, CAW's list of clients expanded during the spring as they provided forecasts for the Noble Rose Rock Festival and the Norman Music Festival. Near the end of the year, new officers were elected. Keith Sherburn, Sarah Stough, and Nicole Ramsey took over as president, vice president, and secretary/treasurer, respectively. Additionally, Lamont Bain was appointed as the Director of Operations, while Greg Blumberg took over as Director of Development. Their respective deputies were Brandon Smith and Charles Kuster.
The new Director of Operations made an early impact during the Summer of 2010. He was the first member in OWL's history to be on air live on Island 107 FM while being interviewed regarding possible impacts of Tropical Storm Bonnie on Key West. This will likely be one of many firsts for the organization this year, as the new group of officers will allow OWL to truly take flight.
This is where the current history ends. I shall update it more once I get more information to fill it in which with any luck should happen in the coming months. ~Bruce Pollock