Thursday, July 27, 2023

The First Tornado Detection By Doppler Radar

Actual Image of El Dorado Tornado
KAKE-TV in Wichita has produced an outstanding documentary on the first-ever use of Doppler radar to detect a tornado, which was in Wichita in 1958. That tornado struck the City of El Dorado, Kansas. It was an F-4 intensity tornado (would be rated EF-5 today) that killed 13.  

After World War II, Wichita received the first-ever weather radar from the Weather Bureau. Then, in 1958 and '59, we and Wichita Falls, Texas, had experimental Dopplers (image below). 
The radar in Wichita measured a wind of 206 mph in the El Dorado Tornado. Unfortunately, it would be 34 years before the first operational Doppler radar would be deployed for the detection of tornadoes and other storms. 
While I had no involvement in the production of KAKE's excellent documentary, there are some personal notes I would like to add. First, the people of El Dorado have, over the years, been extremely kind to me. I was so honored to speak at the dedication of the tornado memorial (seen at the end of the documentary). I want to thank everyone in El Dorado.

In the documentary, the newscaster you see was my dear friend, the late Greg Gamer. Greg was a fixture of news in south central Kansas and I had the pleasure of working with him for more than two decades back in my television days. He was an outstanding journalist. 

Finally, even though the experimental Doppler radar detected the violent tornado, its data was not available for analysis in real-time. There was no warning of the storm and the people of the city were especially caught off-guard due to its unusual northwest to southeast movement. It was before the era of civil defense siren use for tornado warnings (another Wichita innovation, in 1958) or television break-ins. 

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