The day TV weather grew up

This essay by Mike Smith hits home for me, because it parallels my experience in the midwest in 1974. That was a banner year for tornado outbreaks. The April 3rd and 4th super outbreak was a big influence on me.

The Super Outbreak is the largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 US states, along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles (4,160 km).

The Super Outbreak of tornadoes of 3–4 April 1974 remains the most outstanding severe convective weather episode of record in the continental United States. The outbreak far surpassed previous and succeeding events in severity, longevity and extent.

Just 4 years later, I was doing television weather. The lessons of 1974 still influence me today, as with Mike, I wanted to make radar a lifesaving tool. My contribution is this personal doppler radar program.

June 8th – The Day Television Weather Grew Up

By Mike Smith, Certified Consulting Meteorologist

Today is the anniversary of a day I will never forget. In Warnings I call it “The Day Television Weather Grew Up.” I was working at WKY TV (now KFOR TV, NBC) in Oklahoma City. There was a massive tornado outbreak in central Oklahoma. For the first time in history, we broadcast a tornado live.

Photo by Steve Tegtmeier

The photo above shows the televised tornado as it was developing over eastern Oklahoma county. But, while dramatic, that wasn’t the most important thing that occurred that day.

Even though we had only primitive black and white radar (photo below shows the tornado as it approached Oklahoma City), we were able to track the storms in real time and get a warning out in advance of every single tornado (13) in our viewing area. At times, four tornadoes were simultaneously on the ground. We focused exclusively on the tornadoes (rather than the additional storms — occurring near the tornadoes — that were only causing large hail), told viewers exactly where they were and exactly where they were headed. That may not seem surprising now, but it had never been done before. Just two months before (April 3), tornadoes swarmed across the Ohio Valley. There are several web sites with radio and TV recordings of that day and it is obvious that, most of the time, the broadcasters didn’t know where the tornadoes were.

As evidence of how revolutionary this was, the TV station received 75 cards and letters telling us, over and over, “You told us a tornado was coming, we took shelter, and our home blew away moments later. Thank you, you saved our lives!” It was overwhelming reading them.

Courtesy: The Daily Oklahoman

The editorial cartoon was published three days later.The story might have ended there but for two TV news consultants that visited us a week or so later. TV news consultants then, and now, take the “best practices” of TV stations and adapt them to their specific clients. (Ever wonder why there is an “Eyewitness News” in just about every city? Consultants is the answer. They found, years ago, that people liked that name for newscasts.)

They interviewed me about what we did on June 8. They spoke with our news director and news staff. I own a book about TV news, written in 1970, that devotes exactly two paragraphs to TV weather. The consultants’ audience research determined that viewers wanted more and better weather coverage.

From about 1975 to 1980, meteorologists took over from weather “personalities” in most cities. Color radar became a staple of television. Satellite images and time lapse cloud photography made their debuts.

Of course, all of this would have eventually occurred. But, June 8, 1974, was the day TV weather grew up.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41WMr2XunYL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpg

The Super Outbreak is the largest tornado outbreak on record for a single 24-hour period. From April 3 to April 4, 1974, there were 148 tornadoes confirmed in 13 US states, including Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, and New York; and the Canadian province of Ontario. It extensively damaged approximately 900 square miles (1,440 square kilometers) along a total combined path length of 2,600 miles (4,160 km).[1]

The Super Outbreak of tornadoes of 3–4 April 1974 remains the most outstanding severe convective weather episode of record in the continental United States. The outbreak far surpassed previous and succeeding events in severity, longevity and extent.

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49 thoughts on “The day TV weather grew up

  1. Anthony, I remember the day when you reported tornadoes in Butte County on KHSL during some unusually severe weather when I lived in Chico in the early 1990’s You must have had more weather to report than would fit in your allocated time slot, because you barked something to that effect to someone behind camera who must have been pressing you to wrap it up. As a viewer, I was certainly more interested in the tornadoes than the next commercial break or the sports segment! Cheers to you, old friend.
    REPLY: Thanks Eric. The people there that ran the show often were more slaves to format than to content. If you noticed what I said on the air, you can imagine what I said afterwards. For the record, if we have tornadoes and thunderstorms threatening lives and property, I don’t give a rats ass if the commercial break gets pushed back or the sports guy has to drop a story. Public service trumps format every day of the week and twice on Sundays. – Anthony

  2. So we have had years before all this warming that produced a lot of funnel clouds. We were told warming would increase it.

  3. I have always wondered why in the world do those people affected every year by tornadoes do not build their homes out of concrete and aerodynamically shaped so as to withstand those wind forces. Why? Or is it part of the game to pay insurances to rebuild houses every time?

  4. I was there in Cincinnati [4 April 1974] . My wife was a school teacher and I went to get her.
    The radio plotted out the course of a huge funnel cloud and I was directly in it’s path. I was just passing an apartment building.
    I took a right turn and went to my wife’s school and hid in an inside room along with the principal. When the storm was over we went past the apartment building I referred to earlier and it had no roof.
    That night was just as scary. We heard roaring like a freight train a couple of times and golf ball size hail which I am told is quite normal in a tornado.
    I remember driving up to Xenia Ohio a day or 2 later. It looked like it had been carpet bombed.
    REPLY:We were only miles apart. I can remember the live remote video on WCPO channel 9 (perhaps the first ever of its kind) of the tornado as it crossed the Ohio river at Addyston. I can remember Al Schottelkotte looking like the world had ended and with some hint of fear in his voice. That day, and the television that surrounded it, had a profound effect on me. – Anthony

  5. @ Enneagram says:
    June 8, 2010 at 11:29 am
    I have always wondered why in the world do those people affected every year by tornadoes do not build their homes out of concrete and aerodynamically shaped so as to withstand those wind forces. Why? Or is it part of the game to pay insurances to rebuild houses every time?

    Good question. Since I live in the middle of “Dixie Alley”, which has more tornadoes per year (average) than any other part of the US, I’ll try to tell you why I live here in one of those non-concrete, non-aerodynamic, homes. Because this land we live on has been in the family for over 100 years. Because of the cost. Because of regional design culture. Because of a understanding of the risk and a willingness to accept it.
    For those same reasons people in flood zones don’t build to accommodate flooding in many cases, or we build homes on the slopes of volcanoes that won’t withstand an eruption, build a brick house on a fault line, or live in the middle of a mega city that depends on a monstrous flow of inputs and outputs to exist as a habitable zone at all. And so on.
    People have an innate sense of risk, and even tho they may not understand the mathematics and logic of formal risk assessment, we more often than not make the right choices. If we made the wrong choices more often, we would still be living in caves. Finally, this rock is inherently unsafe, chaotic, and presents all life with a daily battle to the death. In spite of this, we persevere, and thrive. Go figger. 🙂

  6. Enneagram said on June 8, 2010 at 11:29 am:

    I have always wondered why in the world do those people affected every year by tornadoes do not build their homes out of concrete and aerodynamically shaped so as to withstand those wind forces. Why? Or is it part of the game to pay insurances to rebuild houses every time?

    Why not just cut to the chase and build underground homes? Saves the hassle of running to an underground tornado shelter. Better have at least three major entryways to allow for the possibility of blockage by some windswept lightweight wreckage like a Honda Civic.
    Really, “Mother Nature” continues to do her level best to kill us off when we are on the surface, and the energy “wasted” by heating from freezing surface temps to cooling from blistering sunlight-driven surface temps is rather excessive. Truly environmentally-minded people should give up on surface structures. What do you really lose anyway, save a beautiful showpiece you can park the Prius in front of to advertise your “green credentials.” Wouldn’t a lovely garden over where your home is be more impressive?

  7. I don’t know about ‘aerodynamic’ houses; they can’t, surely, be wind cheaters from every direction, can they? As a tornado passes to the east the wind direction is 180deg from a twister passing to the west, is it not?
    I am on firmer ground with ‘underground’ living, though; having two friends who have tried the troglodyte lifestyle. The first drawback is the dificulty and disproportionate expense of stopping groundwater from forcing its way in; the second is that many people find that, after a while, the lack of a view of the weather etc. gives them an increasing sense of claustropobia. There are many troglodyte homes along the Loire Valley, but they are falling into disrepair and being vacated as modern above ground homes become more available.

  8. I grew up in Green Lake County, Wisconsin, the north west corner of “Tornado Alley – USA”. I saw my first tornado briefly touch down on the surface of Big Green Lake (technically a ‘water spout’) at the age of 7 or 8. Many years later, in July 1994, we had to work with chainsaws for half a day, clearing tornado downed trees from a church parking lot, so we could have a funeral gathering for my father. Miraculously, the church itself was completely unscathed.
    There were many tornadoes in surrounding areas, in the years between. We lived more than 60 miles from the nearest TV transmission tower and TV reception for weather reports in most of rural Wisconsin, even with a ‘deep fringe’ antenna and a rotor, was dicey at best in severe weather conditions. Local radio from Ripon WI (18 miles) was a more reliable feed, but only providing ‘tornado watch’ (could happen) or ‘tornado warnings’ (one hit, over there!) which provided little tracking information until after the fact! Our best defense was ‘batten down the hatches’ on the farm buildings and livestock, gather in the farmhouse, and post watchers at the south and west facing windows on the 2nd floor!
    I also remember using a TV tuning technique (the ‘Weller Method’) that was purported to detect a tornado within ~ 20 miles of so. You tuned to channel 13 first and turned the brightness control down to the point where the TV image was nearly but not quite all black. Then you turned to channel 2. Lightning would show as horizontal white streaks on the almost black screen. If the picture became bright enough to be seen, or the screen brightened to an generally even light, it signaled a tornado in the area. Time to head for the basement! It did seem to work on one or two occasions, at least with our old black and white, tube chassis TV and antenna set up. We kept lookout from the upper floor windows anyway and headed to the basement when things looked serious or the TV screen ‘went white’!
    Enneagram – which way should I point my aerodynamically shaped concrete house, to effectively align it with the tightly rotational vortex of +200 mph winds in an average tornado? I have seen concrete block buildings reduced to just a ragged remnant of the bottom course of blocks by tornadoes (Barneveld post office, 1984, if my memory is correct) and 4 foot diameter burr oak trees twisted off through the main trunk like celery. The sudden pressure differentials, the tightly rotating high speed winds, combined with the massive load of flying debris can batter down most structures, if they are hit. The only safe refuge from a direct hit of such forces is below ground, in the closest thing to a bomb shelter that one can find.

  9. “Why not just cut to the chase and build underground homes? Saves the hassle of running to an underground tornado shelter. Better have at least three major entryways to allow for the possibility of blockage by some windswept lightweight wreckage like a Honda Civic.”
    Ha, that is a great idea next to all those low rivers that flood every 10 years!! 🙂
    While it is annoying when the TV stations break into season finales over an overactive gust on the other side of town, I’ve always appreciated when I’m scared during a bad storm to be able to turn the TV on to an active live update on the situation.

  10. Curiousgeorge & kadaka (KD Knoebel):
    Several years ago I saw a kind of building system which made U shaped (and other)concrete parts 3″ thick,with a screen steel core, that could be assembled to make rooms, etc.
    Those parts were manufactured continuously, like concrete waterpipes, so its cost would be lower.
    However what you say makes me remember the doubts Atila had when invading Rome, as he thought such a big cement city (Romans invented cement) was a big cementery that they had to show respect for. Of course, only inmortals would need an almost inmortal house.

  11. OT: Times Magazine re Arctic Ice:
    I am sure that there is a recent response on this board to this article but I have not seen it. Can anyone give me direction as to where to look for responsible response:
    Going Green
    Melting Arctic Ice: What Satellite Images Don’t See
    From Jan Times Magazine
    Many thanks in advance.

  12. Mike… I was the chief meteorologist at a television station in Grand Rapids, Michigan in April 1974. Fortunately for us all the tornadoes stayed just to our south and southeast in that super outbreak. But I well remember broadcasting a severe thunderstorm warning for our county from the National Weather Service when our old AVQ-10 radar was showing us the storm was already in the next county to the east. It inspired our general manager to upgrade our radar system.
    Consultants did indeed help get the word out that local TV stations could get more timely information out to the public than what was available from the National Weather Service. However, I think television consultants have ultimately been responsible, at least in part, for the slow death of television news. You not only have an Eyewitness news in most markets but you have almost identical newscasts in most markets. If it works in one town, why not in all towns? At least so they thought.
    I had been the number one meteorologist in my market for almost 20 years when one day a consultant walked into the weather office and without even saying hello, began telling me I was doing the weather all wrong. Their “surveys” from other markets showed people wanted weather presented in a different way. Even though I had been in the area long enough to have a good feel for what people wanted in that town, they told me I was wrong–over and over again.
    After 40 years in the business, with 20 of them fighting consultants, I quit. It is interesting to note today from friends still in the business, the trend is now back to presenting more of what I felt was important years ago. But I haven’t watched a local television newscast in over two years and don’t miss it one bit.

  13. Before this post, if asked I’d have placed this innovation much earlier, but I’ve spent my life in Minnesota where the weather report segments of the nightly local news were always more serious business than in most other parts of the country, at least based on comments from visitors from other places I recall from my early years. The usual response to those comments was to point out that around here on any given day it was a definite possibility that the weather could do something that could kill you if you weren’t paying attention. I’ve collected a large enough personal collection of episodes of both hypo and hyperthermia, black ice induced carnival rides in spinning automobiles, hours spent stuffed in a snow bank hoping the gas in the tank was sufficient to keep the heater going until someone happened along to pull us out, flash floods, lightening strikes, falling trees, downed electric lines, etc. to realize that line wasn’t nearly the joke we usually meant it to be.
    Around here the better weather guys often shared a level of public admiration that rivaled that of the big buck news anchors and with good reason. The dramatic and continuing improvements in accuracy and reliability of severe weather forecasts have saved untold numbers of people and although it is not credited often enough the work that has been and continues to be done by the meteorological community deserves all our gratitude.

  14. Enneagram says:
    June 8, 2010 at 11:29 am
    I have always wondered why in the world do those people affected every year by tornadoes do not build their homes out of concrete and aerodynamically shaped so as to withstand those wind forces. Why? Or is it part of the game to pay insurances to rebuild houses every time?

    Cost is certainly a factor.
    Another is while very damaging a tornado is usually very localized in its effects. Tornadoes are much less predictable than a flood or a hurricane and most of us who have lived in hurricane alley all our lives have never seen one.
    Now federal flood insurance, that’s a scam. If you live in a flood plain, you can only get flood insurance from the government. Why? Because no private insurance company is stupid enough to insure your property.

  15. @Enneagram: I remember seeing some photos of Jarrell, TX in national geographic some years ago after an F5 hit the town. All that was left were concrete slabs. I live in North Central TX so there is a small risk of my house being destroyed by a big twister. But I think there is a much greater chance of me dying in a vehicular accident and yet I still get in cars. On the other hand, I do have enough concern for tornadoes to have avoided living in a trailer park. Something funny, though: When the sirens go off, the family huddles in the bathroom under a mattress and screams at me because I’m running outside hoping to see the twister. =)

  16. April 1974. How does that fit into your IPCC global-warming increasing severe weather forecasts?
    Oh wait, it doesn’t. Never mind.

  17. Congrats, Mike. Few people get the chance to be in the right place at the right time with the right tools and do anything like what you and your crew did that day. I’m sure those appreciation letters were incredibly sweet.
    Enneagram June 8, 2010 at 11:29 am
    In the immortal words of Gilda Radner “It’s always something.”
    I live in Fairfax Virginia, far from any tornado alley. Some years back one bounced and skipped over Centreville and dropped several trees in my neighborhood, one through a neighbor’s dining room ceiling. There was so much damage locally that we were without power for four days.
    Of course, why anyone in their right mind would choose to live near the San Andreas Fault is a bit beyond me. 🙂

  18. The Super Outbreak of April 4, 1974 was terrifying. I was just a kid–10 years old–in Columbus. As the skies grew darker my older sister received a phone call from her boyfriend at work. A tornado had been spotted southwest of us. Adrenaline started to pump. My parents weren’t home. I have a vivid memory of us running around the house, opening windows slightly. At that time meteorologists instructed people to open their windows to equalize the house’s interior pressure with the storm’s pressure. Otherwise, we were told, the house might explode. More terrifying stuff for a 10-year-old kid. We headed for the basement and listened as a vicious storm blew through. Fortunately, that’s all we experienced. However, the folks in Xenia, not far to the southwest, weren’t so lucky.
    That was a crazy year for tornadoes. I remember taking shelter in the basement quite frequently that year. And of course, we didn’t have tornado sirens until after the Xenia disaster.

  19. Nuke says:
    June 8, 2010 at 1:03 pm
    “Now federal flood insurance, that’s a scam. If you live in a flood plain, you can only get flood insurance from the government. Why? Because no private insurance company is stupid enough to insure your property.”
    The only thing FED Flood does for you is pay to rebuild the structure. Don’t even imagine that your belongings are covered. It is a scam. The way it’s pitched, you’d think that you were getting coverage for belongings.
    IMO, to buy a house, you need to know the 500 year flood plain. Then build 5-10 ft above it. In Houston, you probably will wind up living in the second and third floors, no matter where you live. Am I living like that? Are you nuts, that’s expensive!

  20. “TV weather” wasn’t alone in growing up as a result of the 1974 outbreak.
    The destruction of Xenia and it’s neighbors gave a huge boost to the
    regional realization that those cheap little Radio Shack weather radios
    with NOAA alerts could be life savers here in Ohio.
    NOAA also got an increase in staffing in our area which lasted until
    the Reagan/Bush efforts to privatize “public” services, and in
    particular weather observation/analysis in the 1980s.
    I was a member of an Ohio public employee union back then. The
    union created a non-political “Helping Hand” fund to aid members
    and their families in the Xenia area. There were more 50/50 raffles,
    bake sales and donation drives than you could shake a stick at. The
    fund gradually evolved into a general “help” fund by 1980. (Thanks
    to big Les Best from the Ohio Soldiers and Sailors home.)
    As Mike Smith noted, television stations in Ohio have since then
    enthusiastically embraced the newer, improved forms of doppler radar
    and satellite imaging. There seems to be fewer prom queens or sports
    announcers reporting the weather and more NWS accredited folks
    covering a “scientific” beat.
    Cable TV in our area even supports the standard NOAA broadcast on one
    channel (with local public service “community” notes and postings), one
    channel with nothing but near real time NEXRAD radar images, as well
    as the Weather Channel.
    Sadly, the Weather Channel has taken a step backward in the past
    two years with it’s multitude of various time-filling infotainment
    productions of “Storm Stories”, “When Weather Changed History”,
    “Extreme whatever…” and the like.
    I’m fairly sure the sophistication of today’s “TV Weather” has
    gone hand in hand with a higher level of knowledge on the part
    the viewers. It’s one of the background factors holding AGW
    claims and doomsday prognostications to a higher standard
    than it’s advocates anticipated.

  21. Mac the Knife says:
    June 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm
    Enneagram – which way should I point my aerodynamically shaped concrete house, to effectively align it with the tightly rotational vortex of +200 mph winds in an average tornado?

    Have it as a dome or pyramid. All winds do come from the same direction – the sky.
    Though on a slightly more serious note, probably the best thing to do is have a well secured roof. Once that goes, the house usually follows pretty quickly, so make it put up a good fight.

  22. “Nuke says:
    […]
    If you live in a flood plain, you can only get flood insurance from the government. Why? Because no private insurance company is stupid enough to insure your property.”
    One could use that to find out how insurance companies really think about sea level rise. (Publically they’ll always say it’ll be terrible to justify rate hikes)

  23. A reinforced concrete safe room is a lot cheaper than building an entire house of it, and a lot more secure than a bathtub with a mattress on top.

  24. Pity us folk here over the pond with only the MetOffice between us and ‘weather’.
    ‘Barbecue summers’ and ‘mild winters’ that don’t materialise and, of course, the famous Mr Fish and his ‘there’s no hurricane’ warning. He headed the parade in a recent ‘Stop man-made global’ protest march. It figures.

  25. From: L Nettles on June 8, 2010 at 12:48 pm

    Someone built a dome shaped concrete tornado proof home near Pamplico, SC. IIRC its significantly more expensive than a conventional home and has yet to get hit by a tornado.
    a google view of it here
    (…)

    Looks something like a giant concrete igloo. Which when you think about, was an original housing design to minimize the effects of wind. Natural buildup against the outside wall along the ground provides a curve, with the final cross-section (profile) basically a bell curve. So I guess that would be the shape of a (theoretically) tornado-resistant reinforced building, a bell curve, flatten out as needed. I can see that making sense aerodynamically, does not provide any edges the wind can grab on to.

  26. Enneagram says:
    June 8, 2010 at 11:29 am
    “I have always wondered why in the world do those people affected every year by tornadoes do not build their homes out of concrete and aerodynamically shaped so as to withstand those wind forces. Why? Or is it part of the game to pay insurances to rebuild houses every time?”
    K, I’ll throw my 2 cents. I live in SE Kansas and have seen and been through my share……more than my share. Unless anyone has seen a tornado up close and personal, it is impossible to imagine. It really is quite terrifying. As far as an aerodynamically shaped house, unless it’s underground, I don’t believe there is such a thing as a tornado-proof house. Tornadoes do very unpredictable things. So, why do we live here? The same reason people live with earthquakes or hurricanes or volcanoes. This is home. I’ve been half way around the world and back twice, and I don’t mind living other places, but no matter where I go, it is never home. Home is here. God’s country!

  27. My little home town in central Michigan was hit by 3 F2 tornadoes during the 1965 Palm Sunday. It had already gotten dark outside; I can still vividly remember watching television that night (Ed Sullivan, I think) and suddenly hearing the sound of the tornado as my dad yelled for us to get to the basement. It was all over before we got halfway down the stairs — based on the damage on either side of our house (roughly a block SW and NE), we think that the twister lifted briefly as it went past, knocking down our TV mast antenna in the process.
    No warnings to speak of… just that sudden sound of a train fast approaching.

  28. In April 1974 I was 19 years old, and driving a ’66 Mustang convertible in Noble Co., IN. (at the time I lived in DeKalb Co) Driving on a rural gravel road, I encountered a ferocious storm. There was minimal visibility, debris was flying everywhere, and I saw a field fence lift clear of the ground and dance across the road in front of me. By this time, it was apparent that a tornado was nearby. Wind velocity was tremendous and debris was punching through the convertible roof of my car. I blasted through the fence (I was young and stupid, and thought I could outrun the tornado), which ripped the muffler from my car. I quickly encountered downed electrical lines, and decided to turn around. I raced back the other way, and almost crashed into a large tree laying across the road. I was stuck. I waited in the ditch for the storm to pass, and helped some local farmers cut up the tree. As I drove away, I came on a ridge where I could see the path of the tornado, including a farm that was totally destroyed. The family (thankfully survived) was standing with dazed expressions looking out over the debris that used to be their home, strewn in pieces across a wide field.
    One of the experiences of my youth that is burned in my brain. Of course now, I’d be checking my blackberry for weather conditions, and would steer clear of the tornado. Technology is great. Thanks to the great efforts of meteorologists over the past 40 years… Ironically, my son is close to graduating with a degree in meteorology — he is fascinated by mesoscale weather systems!

  29. What TV weather used to be like: Barry ZeVan in 1971 on Minnesota’s WTCN-11. He was silly when merely drawing attention to routine weather, but all business during severe weather. You can see his skill on the weather map, and he’d use that to quickly show the warning areas. At the time he was hampered by lack of weather radar, and the real storm competitor was WCCO-AM, whose huge audience would phone in descriptions.
    http://www.startribune.com/video/95465244.html?elr=KArks7PYDiaK7DUoaK7D_V_eDc87DUiacyKUUr

  30. There is a good book on the Apr. 1974 Tornado outbreak. Title: F-5, Author: Mark Levine, Publisher: Miramax Books/ Hyperion. What happens to human beings in F-5 tornadoes makes grim reading.
    Underground homes. Flood and ground water are the problems. I have all issues of Fine Homebuilding. I don’t think I have seen an article on an underground house in 20 years. Ground water pressure can crack concrete foundation walls on above ground houses. The solutions that allow walls tall enough to stand upright next to and capable of withstanding the pressure are very expensive.

  31. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
    June 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm
    Why not just cut to the chase and build underground homes?

    It’s often not easy. In Oklahoma they often either have a shallow water table or bedrock near the surface. It’s often much easier to build a small storm cellar/shelter near the house than a basement under a house, much less the entire house underground.

  32. On April 4th, I was stationed at Redstone Arsenal, Huntsville, Al. If you look at the map above, you can see a black line extending right through Huntsville in Northern Alabama. I lived in an apartment that was approx. 1/2 from the main gate at Redstone. We had warnings/watches. The local tv station had moved to “live” coverage from the airport, with an excited weatherman standing in front of a microphone, a sheet or something behind him, and he was reading pieces of paper he had in his hand, each one was a report of a tornado “on the ground”. Suddenly, a hand was thrust in from the right side of the screen, urgently shaking yet another paper. The weatherman took it and began reading: “…and this just in…there’s another tornado on the…ground…AT…THE…AIRPORT….” and he dropped all the papers, and dashed off the screen. A few moments later, the screen went to snow. We saw the tornado that hit Huntsville come down over the mountain and hit Redstone first. There were German students outside behind my apartment, laughing in the rain, with no idea what a tornado was. I went to the sliding door and yelled at them, in german, to get into my house, mach schnell!…and as the last one came inside, the screen door left my hand for points unknown.
    The tornado skipped OFF the ground just before hitting our apartment building, and then came back down about 1/2 mile on the southern side of us and continued on in to downtown Huntsville. The next morning, I drove on base to see what had happened. There were 3 very large “highway-style” signs as you approached the gate, talked of things like visitors, parking, etc. All 3 signs were mounted on 3 phone polls. The 2 outer poles on each sign had been snapped clean off, and the signs were wrapped around the center post. The brick guardhouse at the main gate?…it was gone…just a cement pad left where it used to stand. The damage done was incredible. I was at Redstone for a school on radar and computer repair for Nike missle systems. Each training system had 5 radars, whose antennas and transmitters were mounted on trailers. Each trailer weighed upwards of 10 tons, if I remember correctly. These were substantial antennas, and though the claim was that they were mobil, they really were WAY too large to be moved. The massive parking lots that had held all of the radar trailers for 5 different systems, so 25 radars, were almost clean, with massive piles of debris all pushed over into a pile in one corner of the parking lot.
    The mind simply could not begin to comprehend the power that had caused what the eyes saw.
    An experience I’ve never forgotten.
    Remind me to tell you about earthquakes in Alaska someday 🙂
    JimB

  33. Enneagram says:
    June 8, 2010 at 11:29 am
    I have always wondered why in the world do those people affected every year by tornadoes do not build their homes out of concrete and aerodynamically shaped so as to withstand those wind forces. Why? Or is it part of the game to pay insurances to rebuild houses every time?
    _____________________________________________________________________
    Enneagram, my in-laws came up with another solution. Their house was intentionally built below a hill. The Palm Sunday tornado literally jumped over the house. They found straw driven through phone poles from that tornado.
    During the April 1974 tornadoes, I was ridge walking looking for caves and my buddy and I got knocked off our feet by the lightening striking between us. The tornado took out the trailer park at the foot of the ridge. That was too close.

  34. I was 13 and living in central Ohio on that day and remember getting a call from my Aunt in Dayton that afternoon saying that they were OK. We had no idea what was happening in SW Ohio.
    About an hour or so later pieces of paper and other debris started drifting down from the sky.
    That night we finally heard about the tornado the had destroyed most of Xenia, Ohio.
    The next day my Boy Scout Leader (Mr. McAfee Troop 32) called my parents and said that he was organizing a clean-up crew to go to Xenia that weekend and help. My Dad also volunteered.
    We cleaned up an area in a park just West of the destroyed High School. I’ll never forget that experience, there were pieces of homes buried into the banks of the creek, toys from other kids’ bedrooms scattered, pieces of clothing.
    My Dad took several rolls of Ektachrome slides that day, to document what we were doing.
    We worked all day (~20 -30 Boy Scouts plus ~10 adults) and we might have cleaned up only 10-15K ft² and filled several dump trucks.
    To this day, anytime I hear the warnings I move to cover.
    The one thing that still think about is that we lived ~90 miles from Xenia, but the debris from Xenia only took 45 minutes or so to cover that distance.

  35. You say that’s the day TV weather grew up, but there’s something more profound in that title. Or at least for me it is.
    I feel like I “grew up” with my local weatherman; maybe Anthony knows who I’m talking about down here in Memphis. He’s the only guy I watch.
    How different things are now from the 1970’s. And how different he is. He used to be known as the Saturday morning wrestling broadcaster who also did the weather. These days, he’s the most trusted meteorologist around these parts.
    I’ve always like the fact that he never succumbs to the desire to embellish the seriousness of any situation for the sake of ratings. When he says it’s serious, we clean out the closet, grab the mattress & take cover.
    If this was the day TV weather grew up, maybe it was also the time local TV stations recognized they needed someone knowledgeable enough about weather that viewers could literally grow up with. It’s certainly been true for me. When he retires, the void will be tough to fill.

  36. To answer the question about wind turbines and radar, there is some additional ground clutter but it is manageable.
    I appreciate Anthony reposting my June 8 story. There is an amusing addition at my blog: http://meteorologicalmusings.blogspot.com/2010/06/june-8-rest-of-story.html .
    This story came from my new book, “Warnings: The True Story of How Science Tamed the Weather” published by Greenleaf. It is getting superb reviews. Hope you’ll check it out by clicking on the cover above.
    Mike

  37. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
    June 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm
    Why not just cut to the chase and build underground homes? Saves the hassle of running to an underground tornado shelter. Better have at least three major entryways to allow for the possibility of blockage by some windswept lightweight wreckage like a Honda Civic.

    Unfortunately, soil is not uniform throughout the world. Expansive soils in Texas would wreak havoc on underground homes. Also in places where Bedrock is near the surface it would be very expensive to build. Plus, no sunlight, I’ve lived in a country where there is a lot of rain, they have sunlight therapy to account for the lack of sun. In all, there is a reason that we do not build houses underground. Actually there are several, very good reasons.

  38. I only remember that Time magazine cover of Xenia, OH. I didn’t live anywhere near there and have never been affected by a tornado. But that image is still seared into my brain.

  39. kadaka (KD Knoebel) says:
    June 8, 2010 at 12:09 pm
    Why not just cut to the chase and build underground homes? Saves the hassle of running to an underground tornado shelter. Better have at least three major entryways to allow for the possibility of blockage by some windswept lightweight wreckage like a Honda Civic.

    Has been done. In Tunisia to avoid the high heat.
    http://blog.hotelclub.com/the-underground-village-of-matmata/
    My parents roots were from Anatolia, Cappadocia where the art of making underground houses was carried to the extreme. Cappadocia is on a 2000m plateau that in the winter gets very cold.
    http://www.cappadociaturkey.net/undergroundcities.htm
    These were deserted by the time my father was born, 1909. Their house though had two basements, the lower one connecting to other village houses and altogether to the church and from the church an underground tunnel led to a mountain refuge village, for the times the Arabs came raiding.(900 to 1200ad). He was an adventurous boy and before he left with the exchange of populations in 1922 he had tried to explore the old tunnel. It was caved in.
    I know there is a city in Japan where all the shopping center is underground, and I visited a conference center cum museum in Finland, all underground.

  40. Potential wind loads are extremely difficult to calculate, and the strongest wind loads are not caused by the wind blowing against a surface, but are caused by winds of high velocity blowing across a relatively smooth surface (with laminar flow). Bernoulli’s Principle at work, but highly complex with compressible fluids. Basically these wind loads are proportional to the square of the velocity of the wind. I write as a professional engineer with a bit of experience with wind loads, and with a good deal of experience with fluid dynamics (design of culverts and open channels, and large and small storm drain systems).
    Designs which might defeat this sort of wind load probably wouldn’t be considered attractive, and would be quite expensive.
    It certainly would be possible to construct an electronic tornado detection device which would indicate both what direction and approximate distance a tornado was from the location of the device, as well as the immediate direction and velocity of movement of the tornado, and the approximate magnitude of the tornado . . . after the tornado touches ground . . . but the liability factor would be great. Too, tornadoes can form quickly indeed.
    Mostly, you pay your money within your means and take your chances, There is no location on the planet which is “safe” from any sort of natural disaster.

  41. Of note, the great cooling of 1940 – 1979 seems to have reached it’s ultimate low point in early 1974. It was sort of an undershoot after the 1973 El Nino. The system that ultimately resulted in this started life as a late season inside slider cold low that came down the West Coast, then made a hard left turn down by Baja, then slid ENE from there. That’s a classic set up for an outbreak. This type of system, in my experience is more likely during a La Nina and seemingly more likely during a negative phase PDO.

  42. I was 2 years old and living in Delhi township near Cincinnati and I still have memories of that day, hiding in the basement from tornados. Apparently, we barely missed the F5 labeled “43” on my brother’s birthday. Anyone who experienced that will never forget that day.

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