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Serving the Present... Remembering the Past...
Air Force Weather

 

 

The Poem    Personal Reflections

GOLDEN ANNIVERSARY OF THE FIRST TORNADO FORECAST
A Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the First Tornado Forecast was held on 23-25 March 1998. It was hosted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Weather Service (NWS) and National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL), in cooperation with the University of Oklahoma and the US Air Force in Norman, Oklahoma, and at Tinker AFB (located approximately 10 miles north of Norman) as a tribute to the past 50 years of tornado forecasting.
On Monday, 23 March, NOAA hosted an Open House at its facilities in Norman. Thank goodness severe weather was minimal across the country, for most if not all employees of the Norman NWS Forecast Office, WSR-88D Operational Support Facility, Storm Prediction Center and National Severe Storms Lab were leading tours, giving briefings, explaining their storm chasing vehicles and equipment, providing refreshments, selling T-shirts and coffee mugs, escorting VIPs and if you were driving in, you may have (almost) ran into Dennis McCarthy who was directing traffic. As Meteorologist In Charge of the NWS Forecast Office, Dennis also directed great weather for the 3-day celebration, making sure visitors remembered the song phrase, “Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweep-in’ down the plain.” Air Force weather personnel
from Tinker AFB were also at the open house demonstrating their field equipment. The Tinker AFB band supplied the musical background. On Tuesday, the local chapters of the American Meteorological Society and the National Weather Association sponsored a Golden Jubilee Symposium on Tornado Forecasting at the University of Oklahoma. To start off the symposium, a tribute to Air Force Colonel (Retired) Robert Miller was paid by Dr. Robert Maddox, who also discussed the first tornado forecast of Miller and Fawbush. Nine other invited speakers discussed the past, current and future of tornado forecasting, storm spotting & public awareness, mesoscale modeling and field research.
Larry Wilson, who worked with Col. Miller for six years at the Kansas City warning center as a military forecaster and later as a NWS forecaster, wrote a poem for the occasion and presented it at the symposium. He gave us permission to publish it (below).
On Tuesday evening a Commemorative Dinner was held at the University of Oklahoma. Speakers included Dr. Richard Anthes, President of UCAR; Jack Kelly (BGen USAF Ret.), NWS Director; Joe Friday (Col USAF Ret.), Director of Oceanic & Atmospheric Research, NOAA; Dr. James Baker, Administrator of NOAA; and Dr. John Snow who as the Dean of the College of Geosciences hosted the event.
On Wednesday, 25 March, a special ceremony was held at Tinker AFB to commemorate the first tornado forecast. A historical marble monument was dedicated to this successful operational weather forecast. A luncheon at the Tinker AFB Officer’s Club followed where Brig. Gen. Fred Lewis, USAF Director of Weather, presented the Fawbush and Miller family members with plaques containing the words on the historical monument (the first ever to a weather forecast) which reads:
FIRST TORNADO FORECAST
MARCH 25, 1948
THIS MEMORIAL IS DEDICATED TO THE FIRST OPERATIONAL TORNADO FORECAST ISSUED ON MARCH 25, 1948 BY MAJOR ERNEST J. FAWBUSH AND CAPTAIN ROBERT C. MILLER AT TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, OKLAHOMA.
ISSUED SEVERAL HOURS BEFORE A TORNADO STRUCK TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, THIS FIRST FORECAST PROVED SEVERE WEATHER COULD BE ANTICIPATED WITH A REASONABLE DEGREE OF ACCURACY. THIS FOCUSED NATIONAL ATTENTION ON FORECASTING TORNADOES AND WARNING THE PUBLIC OF THEIR POTENTIAL DANGER.
SEVERE WEATHER PIONEERS, MAJOR FAWBUSH AND CAPTAIN MILLER, DEVELOPED TORNADO FORECASTING TECHNIQUES STILL IN USE TODAY. THE 1948 TORNADO FORECAST WAS THE FORERUNNER OF TODAY’S NATIONAL SEVERE WEATHER FORECASTING AND RESEARCH PROGRAM
THAT PROTECTS LIVES AND SERVES THE AMERICAN PEOPLE.

DEDICATED MARCH 25, 1998

Lt Col Fawbush died in 1982. He was represented by his two daughters
and their children. Col Miller suffers at home in Laurel, MD with Parkinson’s
disease; he was represented by his daughter and her son.
___________________________
IT’S MILLER TIME ... 1998

There once was a time in the ‘40’s
when the Air Force just focused on Sorties!

No need to upset the balance of nature
with things like severe storm nomenclature.

All efforts were primed just to win the Big War,
So forecasting weather was akin to folklore.

In 1947, tornadoes come and tornadoes go.
Some are destructive, and some spin for show.

No reason to panic, no need to excite
for forecasting tornadoes would stir public fright.

So I’m writing a poem and getting it polished,
but just like Woodward, I’m getting demolished.

As time moves on in forty-eight...
Spring arrives, and so does fate.

The Ides of March, they come and go
only to signal, a really big show.

It’s warm and humid, and dust aplenty
as Oklahoma wakens to March the twenty.

But no reason to worry, no need to run
for the sky is so blue, under a noonday sun.

But look to the West, an ominous sign
something is swelling along the old dry line.

As daylight fades, the sky grows darker
and thunder is heard like a bulldog barker.

With rushing winds and bouncing hail,
the storm spins up, as sirens wail.

With reckless response, like Nolan Ryan’s sinker
a tornado descends and devastates Tinker!

The base is in ruin, the damage is great
and forecasters are challenged to begin a debate.

So Fawbush and Miller review all the charts
and wonder if forecasting beats throwing the darts.

With quickness and toil, they took on the hunt.
Was the research worth it? --- or should they just punt?

The questions were answered on March twenty-five,
as parameters galore all came alive.

The moisture was there with southerly wind
and dryness was evident across the Big Bend.

For all the parameters to get in a tangle,
the winds aloft must come from the right angle.

Fawbush and Miller prepared for the forum,
the briefing each morning for General Borum.

With parameters in place to dazzle the eye,
the General inquired if his planes should fly.

Fawbush and Miller, remembering the past
recalled it was similar to Tinker’s last.

The briefing was given, and as one might figure
the General inquired if there really was a trigger.

The forecasters were stunned and quickly replied:
“Yes, Sir! Yes, Sir! ... and find someplace to hide.”

“My base! My base!” the General exclaimed!
“Get the planes hangered, before we get maimed!”

Miller went home and tried to relax,
but rumbles of thunder became louder cracks.

As hard as it is, to simply construe
the sky turned black after being so blue.

A ringing of phones soon brought the big news!
“TORNADO HITS TINKER...AND NO PLANES WE LOSE!”

‘Twas the greatest of forecasts, as many now know
and 50 years later, we’re tinkering to grow.

So, hats off World!...after 50 long years,
“It’s Miller time now with many good cheers!”
Larry F. Wilson
1998
________________________________________
More information & pictures of the Golden Anniversary are on the Internet at
http://www.nssl.noaa.gov/Golden Anniversary
________________________________________
An e-mail message from Wally Kinnan (below) adds a personal reflection on
this historic event.

ATTN: AWA Newsletter Editor

Just a note to thank the Association for the Newsletter and World-Wide
Roster that I just received. It brought a world of memories flooding back
from my service in the late '40s and early ' 50s, just out of MIT after
World War II pilot duties. Particularly, as a 1st Lt. working as a research
assistant and publicist for the Fawbush-Miller tornado research team at
Tinker in the '48 to '50 period while doubling as the P.I.O. for the 2059th
Air Weather Wing and 2060th Mobile Weather Sqdn. They were the finest group
of folks I ever had the pleasure to know and work with, from Col. Harold
Smith, Wing CO and his Staff, and Maj. Throgmorton, CO of the colorful
Mobile Weather outfit, down to the hard-working non-coms of the Wing and
the Severe Weather unit.

Later I had the "distinction" to be one of Col. Larry Cometh's "Tigers" in
the 57th Strat Recon outfit at Hickam. We had some of our finest hours in
the bar and lounge of the Hickam AFB Officers Club ---- after hours,
naturally ---- and I had some of my most productive hours as a forecaster
on Kwajelein Atoll, a member of the Typhoon Research Board on Guam, and as
head of the Upper Air Forecast team at the Hickam Weather Center where we
produced noteworthy forecasts for some distinguished transients, i.e., Gen.
Curtis LeMay, Gen. Douglas MacArthur (whose navigator got him lost between
Japan and Hawaii) and for the first trans-Pacific, in-flight-refueled, jet
fighter wing movement between the U.S. and Japan by F-100 aircraft.
(There's a story behind that too, by the way.)

But of all these duties, probably the most interesting and rewarding has
to be the year or two that I was fortunate enough to share in the research
of (then) Maj Ernie Fawbush and Capt Bob (Robert C.) Miller in the
developent of their forecast methods for severe thunderstorms and
tornadoes. As Wing P.I.O it also fell to me to be the publicist for their
activities, and, I'm proud to say that my writing for the news media led in
large measure to the eventual acceptance by the general public of their
forecasts in the face of the severest possible opposition from the U.S.
Weather Bureau directorate(and a few theoretical physicists) who maintained
that tornado forecasting was impossible and therefore unacceptable.

The break really came for more widespread acceptance of the Fawbush-Miller
Severe Storms Forecast method in January 1950 when Dr. Robert Fletcher, the
Air Weather Service civilian Science Director who had become a believer,
arranged for the team to present a technical paper during the Annual
Meeting of the American Meteorological Society in St. Louis. I was
privileged to accompany them under orders as their Public Information Officer.

The AMS was as conservative as the Weather Bureau on the subject of
tornadoes and the forecasting of severe storms since most research on the
subject was largely theoretical and conducted by a few respected scientists
who had little or no concern for preparing practical forecasts, and whose
findings were considered to be the final word on the subject. Because of
that, and hard to believe, they insisted that the AWS team present their
paper behind closed doors to a few skeptics who would come to snicker
behind their hands at the Air Force upstarts.

Well, as luck (and good fortune) would have it, Mother Nature played the
trump card for us with a truly out-of-season tornado (naturally not
forecast), accompanying a strong cold front, that struck East St Louis,
Illinois, just across the river, doing considerable damage the night before
the meeting was to assemble in St. Louis. Since I had already prepared
several press releases relating the success story of the Fawbush-Miller
forecast methods in Oklahoma, I was hopeful that I might be able to get a
little free space in the local press --- never dreaming of the coverage we
would get as a result of the East St. Louis storm.

Our story made the front page of every paper in town and it went out
nationwide on the wires of the Associated Press, tied to the story of the
unusual out-of-season tornado. Needless to say the meeting doors were
opened to the public and press and became the headline story of the 50th
Anniversary National Meeting of the AMS.

In he meantime, strong local support for the AWS Severe Weather Unit
helped keep it from from being phased out in the face of opposition from a
number of sources, both within the Air Force and without, who felt that the
AWS personnel assigned to the project could be better utilized in other
duties and that they were intruding in the domain of the Weather Bureau by
engaging in more or less unsponsored research beyond the skill levels of
the Air Weather Service officer. Colonel Harold Smith was a staunch
supporter of, and believer in, the work that Fawbush and Miller were doing
and by permitting me to work with broadcasters in the area as his PIO, he
opened the door for strong support from some local community leaders In
Oklahoma City who were sharing in the successful Tinker forecasts.
Outstanding in this group for his leadership was P.A. "Buddy" Sugg. a
retired Navy Captain, Vice-president and General Manager of WKY-TV, a
pioneer TV station (who later hired me as Oklahoma's first TV Weatherman
--- but that's another story) and a powerful voice in Oklahoma politics,
who soon enlisted the aid of his good friend and political ally, Senator
Mike Monroney.

When it became obvious that the Weather Bureau wanted nothing to do with
issuing Severe Thunderstorm and Tornado warnings to the general public,
(and even went so far as to try to suppress the activities already underway
at Tinker), Sugg and Monroney went to Washington togther and started
pounding on some doors --- especially that of Mr. Reichlederfer, the Chief
of the Bureau at that time, and other influential congressional leaders.

Obviously, this public and political pressure as a result of the success
of the Air Force forecasts coming out of Tinker (initially, only for Air
Force consumption), forced the Weather Bureau to ultimately bow to the
demand for these forecasts to be made available to the general public,
especiallly in the so-called "tornado belt" of the southwest. As a result
of this pressure, the Weather Bureau found it necessary to finally
establish their own severe weather center, to be located in Kansas City, to
relay severe weather warnings using the "upstart" Air Weather Service
officers methods. They really resented us --- but, grudgingly, had to call
on Ernie and Bob to teach their techniques to the initial staff at Kansas
City. (I might add that they later rewrote any number of the Fawbush-Miller
findings and published them as their own, which added somewhat to the
bitterness at Tinker over the cavalier attitude of the Weather Bureau, who
considered AWS personnel as something less than professional in those
days.) Happily, though, our relationships eventually improved with the
Bureau because of a growing respect between our unit and some of the good
guys they sent out to work with us, notably among them a fine gent and
forecaster named Bob Beebe who was to become the original MIC of the
Weather Bureau's Severe Weather Forecast Team at Kansas City. Eventually,
the Tinker AFB unit was moved to Kansas City as a partner in the early
direction of the Severe Weather Center as it gradually assumed
responsibility for the nationwide distribution of severe weather and
tornado forecasts.

From there, as they say, the rest is history --- but I felt that there
are many AWS personnel today who might be proud to learn of the role played
by the Air Weather Service in the development and growth of severe
thunderstorm and tornado forecasting, especially since the ranks of those
of us who were fortunate enough to have participated are thinning rapidly.

Henry W.(Wally) Kinnan
10930 Walsingham Rd.
Largo, Fl 33778
(XpowK@aol.com)
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