'Tornado' Banned by U.S. Weather Bureau Before Radar
In 1948, a rudimentary radio broadcast warning system based on a network of observers and reporters debuted in parts of Kansas and Missouri that did prove useful, albeit labor intensive. In 1946, the U.S. Army Signal Corps, responsible for all forms of communications during wartime, began converting some of their World War II era radar systems for use in weather detection. The first official weather radar was commissioned a year later. U.S. Air Force officers Capt. Robert Miller and Maj. Ernest Fawbush, noticed that the atmospheric conditions surrounding Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma visibly appeared similar to the way it did during the onset of prior tornadoes in the area. They used radar to monitor the approaching storm and were able to discern a telltale signature in the signal that correlated with the spawning of a tornado. In 1953, researchers identified a distinctive hook-shaped echo which was found to be characteristic of a fully formed tornado. The era of severe weather forecasting via radar had been born.
In 1971, S-band pulse-compression radar systems that could detect and measure the velocity of anything that moves became operational. Software algorithms produced the kind of color-coded weather radar images that we are accustomed to seeing today. Satellite sensing is now combined with terrestrial data to provide an up-to-the-minute status on everything from a list mist of rain to a major downpour, ice storm, or blizzard-force snow storm. Phone apps like Dark Sky now exploit instant access to the National Weather Service's publically available database to let you know based on your current GPS-determined location whether or not to head for shelter. We've come a long way, baby.
Here is a related CNN story titled "Up Until 1940s, Americans Didn't Even Get Tornado Forecasts."
Posted September 12, 2013