Norman, Okla., sits in the heart of Tornado Alley, so it's no surprise that the National Weather Center is located here.
But we're about as far from tornado season as can be, and the October weather leans toward mild with a 50-percent chance of perfect. Weather aside, Norman is a natural home for so much forecasting: This city named for a surveyor (Abner E. Norman) decided to establish the University of Oklahoma here before Norman was even incorporated, and 18 years before Oklahoma became a state.
So despite Norman's proximity to Oklahoma City, this sizeable college town need not lean upon the state's capital for things to do. Be sure to spend some time bar and restaurant-hopping at busy Campus Corner, the hub of any game day experience. But in particular, check out these spots while in town.
Yup, you guessed it … it's a diner. But straightforward as this restaurant is in name and signage, which boasts of air conditioning, this breakfast and lunch joint mixes classic American fare with Tex-Mex. And unlike most '50s-style diners, this one has actually been this way since the 1950s. Try the eggarito or egg quesadilla, of if you're feeling lucky, put yourself at the chef's discretion with the Kitchen Sink Omelette. And that air conditioning might prove more crucial than you thought after a bowl of their Championship Chili, named so because, yup, it's an award-winner.
The Deli, on the other hand, is a music venue. Go figure. One of Campus Corner's oldest bars, and the only place in Norman you can catch live music every day of the week, you can smoke inside even if you can't buy a sandwich.
They really like plainspoken names in this town, and the McHughes family has been serving up classic burgers and milkshakes here since 1954. In fact, this location has been in business on Main Street before Main Street even came all the way out here, about a mile from the center of town. The Sooner Dairy Lunch is so old school they don't accept credit cards, but you won't need one as a jumbo double cheeseburger will run you $4.94. Plus, they take personal checks.
New York and Chicago are about as nearby as Italy, but Othello's placed fourth in the National Pizza Competition for "Traditional Pizza." (To be fair, the family has Brooklyn roots.) So they've been doing something very right at this institution since in 1977. Sit at the "Table of Truth," which was always reserved for Barry Switzer when he was a living legend in town. But don't tell any fibs, or the table is said to shake.
Scratch likes to play with flavors, but nothing too crazy – think coffee-crusted pork loin or a Sriracha-enhanced Caesar dressing. And there's the matter of a list of nearly 40 specialty craft cocktails, plus all the classics. They make their own orange liqueur for mimosas, and they do brunch, which might come in handy.
The full name – which honors the town's namesake, surveyor extraordinaire Abner Norman – is a mouthful to remember, but you can't miss the fire truck-red building. This family-friendly Irish pub features more than 200 beers (28 on tap) from around the world, as well as a wide selection of Scotch and Irish whiskeys. (Note: Don't attempt to join the Centennial Club by drinking 100 different beers all in one weekend.)
Take advantage of that beautiful weather on one of the best outdoor patios in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area. Sample some chili con queso and chips while sipping a frozen or ice cream cocktail on the garden patio. It won't be hot enough out to need cooling off, but you're on vacation.
They give a free tour at 1 p.m. Fridays, but a reservation is required. This a government facility, after all. It's worth it to visit the McCasland Family Observation Deck, School of Meteorology, NOAA/NWS Storm Prediction Center, the NWS Norman Weather Forecast Office, and the National Severe Storm Laboratory. Then maybe you'll be able to understand why your meteorologist back home never seems to know when it'll rain.
- Mike Ogle