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 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.

SO JUST WHEN IS “TORNADO SEASON”?

The darkest shading indicates that, historically, there is only a one-tenth of one percent chance of a significant tornado occurring within 25 miles of a given point.----NOAA/SPC/NSSL graphic.

The darkest shading indicates that, historically, there is only a one-tenth of one percent chance of a significant tornado occurring within 25 miles of a given point.  NOAA/SPC/NSSL graphic

Weather-savvy folks are aware that North Atlantic hurricanes have an officially-defined season: June 1 through November 30.  Most, but not all, hurricanes and tropical storms whirl to life within that 6-month period.

There is, however, no counterpart for tornadoes. Twisters can and do spin up at any time of year with the threat peaking in the spring.

SAM TOWNSEND (a character in Supercell), OWNER AND OPERATOR OF THE “GUST FRONT GRILL”

Sam Townsend, rheumy-eyed, weatherbeaten and heavyset, sports a face folded with age and memories. If you ever searched for him in a crowd, he wouldn’t be difficult to spot. He wears a black stovepipe hat with an eagle’s feather jammed into the hatband.

Half Osage Indian and a Vietnam combat veteran, Sam is conflicted by visions rooted in his native American background, and nightmares erupting from his memories of the killing grounds of Southeast Asia. For instance, when he tells his old friend and veteran storm chaser Chuck Rittenburg to Beware the thunder, it turns out he wasn’t warning of thunderstorms.

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.”

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.

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.