OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – March 25 marks 75 years since the nation’s first ever tornado forecast was issued, putting Oklahoma at the epicenter of the weather world changing forever.
It happened at Tinker Air Force Base here in the Sooner State, thanks to two Air Force officers and meteorologists.
“It’s a legend in severe weather forecasting lore,” said Dr. Howard Bluestein, a professor of meteorology at the University of Oklahoma.
Bluestein said weather forecasting back in the 1940s was tough enough.
“You looked at the weather map and you said, ‘Well, we’ve seen this sort of thing before,’” he said. “’Maybe there’ll be some severe weather.'”
An EF-3 tornado had just hit the base less than a week before on March 20 and destroyed hundreds of millions of dollars in aircraft and property.
That same weather pattern was heading right back for the base.
“Well, how often does that happen?” Bluestein said.
At the time, the government banned issuing public forecasts and tornado alerts in fear of creating a panic.
But the two meteorologists on base noticed the similar weather patterns and decided to issue the nation’s first tornado forecast. It was issued in a form known today as a tornado watch.
“There was a lot of politics involved and so on, but they did, and anther tornado did come by,” Bluestein said.
Bluestein said it was a huge learning moment, paving the way for meteorology today as we know it. Doppler radar, satellite imaging, storm tracking and more.
“We’ve come an amazing an amazing distance,” Bluestein said.
Six years later, WKY-TV, known today as KFOR News Channel 4, had a meteorologist name Harry Volkman. He received a bootleg forecast over the phone, ignored the governments rules and broadcasted the nation’s first tornado warning on TV.
Oklahomans were thankful for it.
“If it hadn’t been for that tornado warning, some of us might have been hurt,” an Oklahoma man told News 4 in archived video.
The events over 7 decades ago put Oklahoma in a global spotlight.
“Oklahoma has become a model for what’s happening in other states and other cities and other countries too, perhaps,” Bluestein said.
The broadcasted tornado warning led federal officials to reconsider their policy on not broadcasting tornado forecasts. They eventually decided to change it.