- 50th anniversary of the Topeka, Kansas, tornado. I believe this was the first major tornado where the (then) new watch/warning system worked perfectly.
- 42nd anniversary of the June 8, 1974, tornado outbreak in Oklahoma (there was also a terrible tornado in Emporia, Kansas the same day) which was "the day television weather grew up."
Let's begin with Topeka. It was as if the tornado was determined to take the path of worst possible damage. It even damaged the Kansas State Capitol. In today's dollar's, its cost was $1.8 billion dollars. It claimed 17 lives but that was a very low number compared with similar tornadoes before the watch/warning program began.
The watch had been out for hours. A timely warning let people in Topeka know the tornado was on the way -- with plenty of time to take shelter.
These excellent warnings were accomplished using ex-WWII black and white radars.
Today is also the anniversary of the "Day Television Weather Grew Up" which is a title of a chapter from my book. I'm reposting the blog post I did on the 40th anniversary of what was the biggest tornado outbreak in Oklahoma history:
In those days, we had black and white radar. The photo below shows a "hook" echo moving into Oklahoma City, with the tornado about to strike Will Rogers World Airport.
In northeast Oklahoma, none of the TV stations had radar or meteorologists (but they did have a popular puppet doing weather!) and there were 16 fatalities.
|Tulsa tornado, June 8, 1974, NOAA|
Back in Oklahoma City, the outpouring of appreciation was simply overwhelming. More than seventy letters, an editorial cartoon and countless phone calls from people thanking us for saving their lives.
Frank Magid Associates. Soon after, two of their people appeared at the station interviewing the meteorology department (Jim Williams, Larry Brown and myself) about how we did what we did that day.
The tornadoes of June 8, 1974, plus the invention of color radar just two years later, caused a revolution in TV weather. Very few TV stations had radar prior to 1976; by 1980, just about every station had it. The percentage of genuine meteorologists doing weather on television soared.
There is a chapter about this day in Warnings called "The Day Television Weather Grew Up." I look back at that day and am amazed what we were able to do.
Even today, weather forecasting and storm warnings are still part art as well as science. Meteorologists, whether with AccuWeather, the National Weather Service, or your local television station, work incredibly hard -- often, under great pressure -- when covering tornadoes. They often receive little appreciation for their valuable work which has cut the tornado death rate by more than 95% over the last half-century…an amazing scientific accomplishment."