Joe’s Weather Blog: Imagine forecasting a tornado…with no “technology” (SUN-3/25)

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Good dreary afternoon (again). Clouds…and raw winds are combining to create another day with temperatures well below average. As I start this blog we’re still in the upper 30s…there are some thin spots in the clouds out there so maybe…just maybe…we can nudge the mid 40s or so before the afternoon is down. There is also a falling apart disturbance moving through the Plains that created rain this morning…and that rain is falling apart. Overnight though things will be chnging with an increasing chance of rain before daybreak in the region.


Tonight: Cloudy skies with thunderstorms possible after 5AM or so. These storms may contain some small hail if they affect you. Lows tonight into the upper 30s

Monday: Rain/storms possible before lunch then just scattered PM showers after lunch. I’m hoping we could nudge or crack 50° on the northside with temperatures milder much farther south (60s). Some of the morning rain may be locally heavy as well.

Tuesday: Lots of clouds with some leftover AM showers. I think drier in the afternoon with highs only in the 40s again

Wednesday: Much better with highs near 60°


The weather continues to be on the cool-ish side and when you look at this satellite picture…you can see why…it looks very similar to the picture from yesterday.

The above is a mess of grayness.

Most of the moisture around the KC region is basically below about 4,000 feet or so. It’s trapped…the air above it is warmer and also MUCH drier too. As a matter of fact the morning balloon release into the atmosphere shows the temperatures at about 6,000 feet close to 50°. So IF you lived in a 600 story building…at the top…it would be bright and sunny and mild compared to below that!

Meanwhile the atmosphere tonight will be undergoing some changes. 1st is the development of a low level jet stream towards the west of the region. In time rain and storms will be developing west of here…and moving this way into Monday morning. This low level jet stream isn’t going to create the strongest lift locally…but it will do a better job farther west. Then as that lift creates rain/storms…that will move towards the KC area. This means we’ll likely have off and on rain for awhile tomorrow…especially in the AM. In addition, despite the dry atmosphere now just above 4,000 feet…the atmosphere will be getting VERY soupy before daybreak. So whatever forms and moves through may create some locally heavy rains as well. It also wouldn’t shock me to see some small hail form as well. These potential storms will be forming over a low level inversion…in other words in the AM tomorrow it will still be cold and raw at the ground but a couple of thousand feet off the ground it may be close to 60°. From there upwards is where the instability will be…and with the freezing level being around 10,000 feet up…any storms should be able to tap into that colder air…and potentially allow some hail to form and some may end up reaching the ground.

In addition to this low level jet…we’ll be in a persistent WSW flow of air that should allow a series of disturbances to ripple from the WSW to the ENE through Tuesday morning. Hence the additional rain chances off and on into Tuesday AM.

A cold front and shift in the WSW flow aloft should help things out after daybreak on Tuesday with drier conditions.

We’re really not the bulls-eye for this set-up actually. Areas farther south…towards I-44 and southwards are the area most vulnerable to heavy rain and flooding (again).

Those are 3-near 5″ totals down there…so flooding will be an issue needless to say.

I remember it wasn’t that long ago that that area was in some rather serious drought conditions. Take a look at where MO started the year from a drought perspective and where they are now…much better towards southern MO than before. (Scroll bar left=now…right=then)

Another cool day is on tap for Tuesday and hopefully we’ll be milder on Wednesday!

Opening Day is still not set in stone as a cold front will be coming through it appears. The timing will determine the 1) rain potential during the day and 2) the temperatures in the afternoon. Slower front…warmer day but higher rain chance. Faster front…drier day…but cooler temperatures, especially for tailgating. So right now I’ve got the lower 50s in the forecast for gametime. I think I’m going to let that forecast breath for another day before changing or updating it.

Imagine that…as good of forecasts we can often create…days in advance…we’re still not 100% sure about rain timing a lot of times (amongst other things). We have all these great technologies…radar…sensors everywhere…computer forecasts…dozens of models to inspect etc. and we’re still not perfect.

Imagine being a forecaster back in the 30s and 40s when none of this data was remotely available really. You had weather conditions at various airports around the world…and you had atmospheric soundings. That was about it. Oh and you had your knowledge of weather. For some forecasters…there “knowledge” was amazing given the times. They couldn’t rely on computer models because those models didn’t exist. Heck computers themselves were essentially in their infancy. Computer model forecasts were being developed for the 1950s or so.

So there you are…a forecaster(s) for the Air Force down at Tinker AFB in the Oklahoma City area…and your knowledge of the weather was leading you to believe that something bad could happen at the AFB you forecast for. That was the case for Captain Miller and Major Fawbush on this date in 1948(!).

70 years ago today the 1st tornado forecast was created for Tinker AFB. If I remember a few days prior there were tornadoes in the OK area…and the 2 forecasters recognized that somewhat the same set-up was coming back into play that day/night.

Remember that the Weather Bureau at the time…wouldn’t even allow the word tornado to be used in a forecast! They were concerned that it would set-off a panic among citizens at the time!!!!!

So let’s pick up the story with that background via NOAA…

“Miller and Fawbush made this historic forecast with some reservation. Until March 25, 1948, tornadoes had not been forecast and many in the science community were uncertain that storms that developed so quickly and with such force could be forecast in advance.

A key factor in the command’s decision to issue the historic forecast on that day was a fierce tornado that swept through the same area only five days earlier, March 20, 1948. The storm left significant damage and some fatalities. Some wondered if that March 20, 1948, storm could have been forecast. A board that was convened to investigate decided that “due to the nature of the storm it was not forecastable given the present state of the art” and that “it was an act of God.” The board also recommended that the meteorological community consider efforts to determine a method of alerting the public to these storms and urged base commanders to develop safety precautions to minimize personnel and property losses in violent storms.

On March 21, 1948, the Commanding General of the Oklahoma City Air Material Area, Fred S. Borum, directed the Air Weather Service to have the Tinker Base Weather Station (under the command of Major Ernest J. Fawbush) investigate the feasibility of forecasting tornado-producing thunderstorms. For the next three days, Fawbush and Miller poured over surface and upper-air weather charts, and reviewed several other past tornadic outbreaks. They noticed certain similarities in the weather patterns preceding such storms. They also noted that others theories advanced by other researchers interested in the cause and behavior of tornadoes. “Using our findings and incorporating those of others … we listed several weather parameters considered sufficient to result in significant tornadic outbreaks when all were present in a geographical area at the same time,” said Miller.

The problem faced by the forecaster was to consider the current surface and upper air data, determine the existence of these parameters or the probability of their development, and then project the parameters in space and time in order to issue the “tornado threat area” with a reasonable degree of confidence and leadtime. The size of the threat area would cover 20-30,000 square miles. Such a detailed forecast procedure was time and labor consuming and required intensive and specialized analysis.

On the morning weather charts of March 25, 1948, Miller and Fawbush noted a great similarity between the charts of March 20 and March 25, 1948. After analyzing the surface and upper-air data, a prognostic chart was prepared for 6 p.m. local time showing the expected position of the various critical parameters. This chart resulted in the somewhat unsettling conclusion that central Oklahoma would be in the primary tornado threat area by late afternoon and early evening. General Borum was notified and shortly thereafter arrived at the weather station.

After hearing these helpful observations, the General asked what time would be the most critical. “Between 5 and 6 p.m.,” said Miller and Fawbush. General Borum decided the forecasters should issue a forecast for heavy thunderstorms during that period. He patiently explained that such a move would serve to alert the base and put in motion a brand new, and detailed, base warning system into effect. The thunderstorm warning was issued.

As the day progressed, reports confirmed that the weather pattern was indeed strikingly similar to the weather patterns that produced the tornado on March 20. Events were moving more swiftly, however, and any organized severe weather activity would occur during the afternoon. Stations to the west and southwest began reporting building cumulus clouds shortly after noon. At 1:52 p.m. the first thunderstorm echoes appeared on the radar scope 60 miles to the northwest and extended 100 miles to the southwest. By 2 p.m. the thunderstorms were beginning to increase in number and size and organizing into a squall line. When notified of this development, General Borum headed for the weather station at once. The General spent 10 minutes scanning the radar scope and commented on the rapid development and increasing intensity of the squall line. By 2:30 p.m. Fawbush and Miller determined the line was moving toward Tinker at 27 mph, which would place it over the base near 6 p.m. General Borum stood up, looked at the forecasters and asked the unsettling question, “Are you going to issue a tornado forecast?”

Miller and Fawbush hesitated, pointing out the possibility of a second tornado striking the same area within 20 years or more, let alone in five days. “Besides,” Miller said, “no one has ever issued an operational tornado forecast.” “You are about to set a precedent,” said General Fred S. Borum.

Fawbush and Miller composed and typed up the forecast and passed it to Base Operations for dissemination at 2:50 p.m. As base personnel began carrying out the detailed Tornado Safety Plan, hangaring aircraft, removing loose objects, diverting incoming air traffic and moving base personnel, including the control tower personnel, to places of relative safety, Miller and Fawbush worried about a forecast “bust.” If the forecast was wrong, public confidence in weather forecasting would be set back years, not to mention their careers.

The squall line was fully developed by 3:30 p.m and continued to move steadily toward Oklahoma City. There had been no reports of tornadoes nor any reports of hail and high winds, as yet. Shortly after 5 p.m. the squall line passed through Will Rogers Municipal Airport, bringing a light thunderstorm, wind gusts to 26 mph and pea size hail. A little after 6 p.m. it began to thunder rather quietly and rain began. There was very little wind. Shortly thereafter, radio broadcasts were interrupted for an urgent news bulletin. A destructive tornado touched down at Tinker Field.

The base was in shambles. Poles and powerlines were down and debris was strewn everywhere. Emergency crews were busy trying to restore power, clear the streets and, in particular, to restore the main runway to operational status. General Borum’s Tornado Disaster Plan had been just as successful as the first operational tornado forecast. Miller and Fawbush became instant heroes.”

end story/clip

It really is a fascinating story…and to verify the forecast for a specific point is astounding and so gutsy as well.

Our feature photo is from Starr Hardwick of Eudora…



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