A ONE IN TWENTY-MILLION CHANCE–The True Story of the First Tornado Forecast–Part III

PART III

 

A plaque commemorating the first successful tornado forecast sits in front of a WWII-era B-29 bomber at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

A plaque commemorating the first successful tornado forecast sits in front of a WWII-era B-29 bomber at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

After General Borum’s statement that Captain Miller and Major Fawbush were “about to set a precedent,” Fawbush composed the forecast–what would now be called a tornado warning (albeit one with a long lead-time)–Miller typed it up and handed it off to Base Operations for dissemination.

Both men sensed their careers circling the drain.  Miller wondered how he’d manage as a civilian.  It seemed unlikely anyone would want to employ an idiot who’d issued a tornado forecast for a precise location.  Maybe, if he were lucky, he mused, he might catch on as an elevator operator someplace.

A ONE IN TWENTY-MILLION CHANCE–The True Story of the First Tornado Forecast–Part II

 PART II

 

 

Major Ernest J. Fawbush (left) and Captain Robert C. Miller examining weather data ca. 1948.  Data those days came in via "high speed" (probably about 60 wpm) teletype.

Major Ernest J. Fawbush (left) and Captain Robert C. Miller examining weather data ca. 1948. Data those days came in via “high speed” (probably about 60 wpm) teletype.

On the morning of March 25, 1948, based on their hurried research, Captain Miller and Major Fawbush noted a significant similarity between the weather charts for that day and March 20, the date of the Tinker tornado.  The two forecasters prepared a hand-drawn prognostic chart (computerized progs were still far in the future in 1948) and reached the “unsettling conclusion that central Oklahoma would be in a primary tornado threat area by late afternoon and early evening.”

A ONE IN TWENTY-MILLION CHANCE–The True Story of the First Tornado Forecast–Part I

The aftermath of the March 20, 1948, tornado at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

The aftermath of the March 20, 1948, tornado at Tinker AFB, Oklahoma.

In the mid-20th century, tornado forecasting was considered to be beyond the “state of the art,” or in other words, impossible.  Twisters were deemed acts of God.  And any meteorologist attempting to predict what the Almighty had in mind would have been labeled a fool, a charlatan, or a court jester.  Maybe worse.

Yet two young air force weather officers found themselves, through no intent of their own, thrust into the unenviable position of having to make a tornado-no tornado forecast for Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, on a stormy March day 66 years ago.

GLOBAL WARMING: THE NEW POPULAR BOOGEYMAN

DID GLOBAL WARMING TRIGGER THE DEADLY NOVEMBER TORNADO OUTBREAK?

Certainly the devastating tornado outbreak of Sunday, November 17, will go down as one of the worst November onslaughts on record . . . but not the worst, at least in terms of the number of tornadoes.  (It will be in 4th place.)

The image below shows where the severe weather—tornadoes, damaging winds—occurred.  (Note: these are reports; some events may have been reported more than once.  Greg Forbes, Severe Weather Expert at The Weather Channel, has confirmed 55 tornadoes, with 13 more pending.)131117_rpts323-1

DOES A HURRICANE DISASTER LOOM? WHY I’M WORRIED

When the great “Dixie Tornado Outbreak” of April 2011 ripped through the Deep South, I remember being absolutely appalled that over 300 lives were snuffed out.

How could that happen, I wondered, in this era of sophisticated weather prediction, detection and warning systems? You had to go back to 1936, into the “Dark Ages” (my term) of meteorology, to find a higher death toll in a multi-day outbreak: 419, Tupelo, Mississippi, to Gainesville, Georgia.

But back to 2011. Earlier that year, a violent twister snatched away 158 lives in Joplin, Missouri. Prior to that, the record holder for a single city was Woodward, Oklahoma: 181 deaths in 1947.

GABI MEDEIROS, FBI AGENT, AD HOC STORM CHASER (character in Supercell)

Gabi Medeiros is a Special Agent with the FBI. Born of a Russian mother and Portuguese father, she’s attractive but not classically beautiful. As she once explained, “I gotta watch what I eat, or I get a little heavy in the ass and start looking like a female Michelin Man.”

Divorced and the veteran of several dead-end affairs, she’s come to the realization there’s a scarcity of men who want to settle down with a woman who “shoots guns, curses in Russian and can’t cook worth a damn.”

CHUCK RITTENBURG, STORM CHASER (lead character in Supercell)

A decade ago, Chuck Rittenburg was the most successful professional storm chaser in the business. The founder and president of Thunder Road Tours, he was a sought-after guest on “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” “60 Minutes” and The Weather Channel. He was a frequent talking head on network newscasts. And he and his company were featured in articles in USA Today and People magazine.

SO WHAT’S WITH ALL THIS CRAZY WEATHER?

It’s a question I’ve been getting a lot recently, undoubtedly driven by the tornado tragedies in Oklahoma—-“So what’s with all the crazy weather? I don’t remember this kind of stuff happing before.”

I suppose people think I should have the answers, being a retired meteorologist and now a novelist who features supercells, tornadoes and hurricanes in his books.

In fact, I don’t have the answers, but only because the question isn’t right. In fact, this year hasn’t been all that “crazy.” Take tornadoes, for instance.

“YOU AREN’T DOING THAT AGAIN”–SOME THOUGHTS ON CHASING TORNADOES

My wife Chris and I are watching coverage of the Moore, Oklahoma, tornado, the devastating EF-5. It’s gripping, gut-wrenching, heart-rending stuff. After while, we can’t watch any more and turn off the TV.

Chris grasps my arm. “You aren’t doing that again,” she says.

“Doing what?” I ask, not making an immediate connection to any recent transgressions . . . which I seem to be able to perform at regular intervals whether I’m aware of them or not.

“Going on a tornado chase.”

Oh, that. Last spring I’d gone on a chase to gather background for the novel I was working on, Supercell.

SUPERCELL, A MORE IN-DEPTH LOOK

Beyond the one-line description of Supercell being “a fast-moving thriller set against tornado chasing on the Great Plains,” what the heck is the novel about?

Here’s the “elevator pitch” for it (an “elevator pitch” means the author’s got only the duration of an elevator ride to pitch his/her book to an agent or publisher):

Chuck Rittenburg, a former professional storm chaser, has lost it all: his business, his home, his family. But he’s offered a chance at redemption—-and a million bucks—-by a Hollywood film company if he can lead its cinematographers to a violent EF-4 or -5 tornado.