First Tornado Forecast
March 25, 1948 - On this day in Oklahoma City, Major Ernest J. Fawbush and Captain Robert C. Miller issued the first official and the first successful tornado forecast.
5 days earlier, no storms were in the forecast when a tornado suddenly ripped a path across the Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. Planes were tossed like twigs and several people were injured by flying glass as the windows in the control tower blew out. It would go down as one of the costliest tornadoes in Oklahoma history with damages estimated at about $93,000,000 in today's money.
Fawbush and Miller were the base meteorologists and in the wake of the tornado they immediately gathered as much data as they could. This was long before weather satellites and computer modeling, so they had to rely on the scant surface and upper-air measurements they had. After 4 days they had zeroed in on several potential tell-tale conditions that might be useful as tornado predictors.
The next morning the weather conditions were eerily similar to the day when the last tornado struck. The appearance of tall and ominous cumulonimbus clouds was one of the indicators that Fawbush and Miller had identified as a possible sign of big trouble ahead. This combined with other factors was enough for them to issue the first official tornado warning.
The base reacted by moving personnel and high-value equipment to bomb-proof shelters. The weather followed the predicted pattern exactly. A supercell formed near the base and for the second time in 6 days a tornado touched down and blazed a trail of destruction. This time, thanks to the fair warning, there were no injuries and the damage was greatly reduced.
As a result of the successful prediction, the Weather Bureau (now known as the National Weather Service) changed its policy of never issuing tornado warnings.