SR/SSD 97-13 4-1-97

Technical Attachment


Archie M. Kahan
Department of Oceanography
Texas A&M College
College Station, Texas

The first Texas Tornado Warning Conference was held on 24 June 1953 at Texas A. & M. College; but it had its real beginning four minutes before the tornado struck downtown Waco, Texas, on May ll. A student assistant in the department of oceanography was operating the modified SN 7 l0 cm. radar set in the Electrical Engineering Building as part of a research project to investigate the application of radar information to synoptic weather analysis. Neither he nor any of the other meteorologists on the staff of the department was aware on that afternoon in May that a "black area" alert had been posted to give extra significance to the isolated echo that he picked up at 3:00. At 16:32 Central Standard Time, four minutes before the tornado struck downtown Waco, he took a routine photograph of the PPI scope which by this time displayed five large echoes. A comma-shaped echo on the 80 mile marker attracted no particular attention. When the evening newscasts began to carry word that a tornado had struck Waco, the personnel of the project began all: all night vigil at the radar set. By the next day it was clear that, with a reasonable amount of coordination between existing weather agencies, the means for preventing a large portion of the loss of life in the Waco disaster was at hand but had gone unused. If the meteorologists at Texas A. & M. had been aware that a black area alert was in effect, and if a warning plan had been made, the existence of the large echoes on the radar scope would have offered a basis for notifying communities in the vicinity of the echoes ofithe impending danger This hind-sight examination of these events in May led to consideration of a storm warning plan which would coordinate existing services into an effective system for anticipating tornado strikes. The first approach considered was a letter to the governor, in which the existing facilities would be outlined and an offer made to assist the governor's representatives in establishing a radar warning system. Th~s- letter was drafted and was working its way through the channels of the college system when Captain H. T. Orville's boundless enthusiasm caught up with it. At his suggestion a conference to bring together interested agencies was conceived, planned and conducted in near-record time.

Invitations to take part in the conference were issued to all agencies and persons with an interest ir the problem of "severe weather warning. " Among these were: the U. S. Weather Bureau, Headquarters Air Weather Service of the Air Force, the U. S. Navy, Dow Chemical Company, Copano Research Institute, Gentral Power and Light Company, Oklahoma A. & M., University of Texas, The Severe Storm Warning Center of the Air Force, Headquarters 16th Weather squadron, Headquarters 24th Weather Squadron, Naval Air Station at Corpus Christi, the Texas Department of Public Safety, and The Texas Civil Defense Officer, as well as the departments of oceanography and electrical engineering at Texas A. & M.. In addition Mr. Jeff Davis, a newspaperpublisher of Crockett, Texaa, and Captain Orville, cf Bendix Aviation Corporation, were invited aa speakers.

Considering that less than a week elapsed between issuance of the invitations and the holding of the conference, it i9 remarkable that only four of the eighteen agencies invited were unable to attend.

The primary purpose of the conference waa to examine existing facilites to determine whether coordination could weld them into an effective warning service. The agenda for the conference liated the following subjects for discuasion:

Following a brief address of welcome by Dean David H. Morgan, the conference was addressed by Captain Orville who traced the history of the Navy's participation in hurricane warning networks. Mr. Robert Simpson, Mr. E. L. Hardy and Mr. L. F. Jones outlined the 'weather Bureau's role in tornado warning. Mr. Joe S. Fletcher of the Department of Public Safety described the activities of that department during the San Angelo and Waco tornadoes; and Dr. J. C. Freeman, Jr. reviewed existing radar facilities. Each agency present at the conference was given an opportunity to describe what facilities and what procedures it had avail- able for contribution to a general comprehensive warning system.

In the discussion attending these addresses it was brought out that an immediate improvement in warning efficiency could be gained by improvement of communications between the Weather Bureau and-the Department of Public Safety. During the conference, representatives of these agencies reached an agreement to instat1 a direct telephone line be- tween the Department of Public Safety offices and the Weather Bureau Office, which would prevent the reoccurrence of a situation wherein the Department of Public Safety was unable to learn the exact nature of the storm threat.A second development which took place during the conference was the disclosure by Mr. Simpson, representative of the Washington office of the U. S. Weather Bureau, that the Weather Bureau had in its possession approximately 100 APS-2 radar sets which were to be converted for storm protection purposes, but that the Weather Bureau was unable to make the modifications at a rapid rate. The suggestion was made that, if individual cities could support the conversion, it would be possible to place a modified radar set in each First Order Weather Bureau station throughout the state. This would result in a radar network capable of completely covering the state of Texas.

Considerable discussion arose concerning the question of when and how to warn the public about tornado dange.. The need for avoidance of panic, the danger of crying "wolf" too often, and methods of educating the public to take intelligent action were discussed.

The conference closed with the appointment of a working com- mittee whose function it is to imple,ment the recommendations of the conference. This committee was composed of: Dr. John C. Freeman, of the Department of Oceanography, as chairman; Lt. Col. A. Payton, 16th Weather Squadron, Conley AFB, Waco, Texas; Mr. Jeff Davis, Editor and owner of the Crockett Democrat, Crockett, Texas; Mr. E. L. Hardy, Regional Director, Region 2 of the U. S. Weather Bureau, Fort Worth, Texas; and Mr. Joe S. Fletcher, Assistant Director, Texas Department of Public Safety, Austin, Texas.

This committee has met twice since the conference. At its first meeting in Waco on 9 July 1953, the committee discussed the pro- blems of communications between the Department of Public Safety and the Weather Bureau, the operation of radar sets in the proposed Weather Bureau networ}c, the problem of educating the public to intelligent action on the issuance of a tornado alert and a method by which the facilities of the Department of Public Safety could be enlisted to examine the actual storminess associated with an intense echo. The second meeting of the committee was held at Fort Worth, Texas, on 20 August 1953. At this time it was disclosed that arrangements for improved communications between the Department of Public Safety and the Weather Bureau had progressed to the point that a direct line had been installed between the Austin Weather Bureau Station and the Austin Office of the Department of Public Safety. In addition, each First Order Weather Bureau station in Texas had been furnished with the address of the appropriate Department of Public Safety Official to contact in the event of severe weather.

The mechanics of dispatching highway patrol cars to investigate intense echoes were further discussed; and a procedure was set up outlining a future meeting, at which the plan would be further worked out between Weather Bureau officials and Safety Department captains. The problem of educating the public to proper action on receipt of a tornado alert was discussed at length. It was decided that Mr. Davis, of the committee, would undertake a program of writing for public education purposes as chairman of a subcommittee. An article on the subject is being written for publication in The Saturday Evening Post and should be widely disseminated.

The Texas radar tornado warning network, an outgrowth of the first conference, has been furthered considerably. A contract has been entered into between the Texas A.M. Research Foundation and the U. S. Weather Bureau to provide for the modification of the necessary radar sets as funds are available. A seriea of meetings with interested cities has been held. At the time of the writing of this summary, meetings with Houston, Galveston and Fort Worth have already indicated that support will be forthcoming for modification of radar seta. The spirit of the conference was best summarized by an editorial in The Houston Chronicle of June 28, which said in part:

"The Meteorological Department of Texas A. M. College eponsored a conference to lay groundwork for such a (tornado warning) system. A committee has been appointed to set up the warning Bervice. The latest acientific devicea including radar will be employed. Because of the rapidity of modern communications an hour or two of warning of a tornado threatened community will save lives and greatly reduce property damage. The aystem to be inagurated may prove one of the most worth while projects Texas could have. "