Tornado censors of 1900

For over fifty years, the word 'tornado' was taboo in US weather forecasts – ironically, because of early detection success. Military meteorologist J. P. Finley took it upon himself to issue the world's first large-scale tornado alerts in the 1880s. Using teletype reports from his own network of hundreds of observers scattered across the country, Finley marked off the regions where he expected tornadoes might form in the next few hours. His accuracy was impressive but, because of byzantine federal politics, Finley's work was halted in 1887. Long after the political storm had passed, scientific insecurity and fear of public panic continued to suppress tornado warnings of any sort, even after radio came on the scene. Finally, in 1948, a bizarre coincidence changed things. A tornado on March 20 wrecked US$10 million worth of aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base (pictured), near Oklahoma City. Two meteorologists on base were ordered to develop a scheme for predicting tornadoes. They set to work, and five days later, they gamely issued a tornado warning. The base was again hit by a tornado, but this time, because most planes had been secured, the damage was far less severe. The scheme developed at Tinker became the nucleus for the US watch/warning system put in place in the 1950s and still used today.