We stop for the afternoon so the animals can rest and prepare lunch for the children. Suddenly, as we are eating, fast-moving clouds cover the sky like a black blanket. My husband looks nervous. He unhitches the horses.
It starts to rain and we move beneath a tree because no one has told us that trees attract lightning. The children are starting to cry. Suddenly, we hear what sounds like a giant beast, and off in the distance a black cloud begins to form, not in the sky, but on the ground, like a funnel, a funnel that grows in width as it moves upward toward the heavens, and we can see that inside of this funnel trees and grass are whipping around, tossed about like a child's toys in the dust.
Early pioneers knew very little about tornadoes. Most of the early pioneers came from Europe and there is no place in the world that has tornadoes like the United States.
It was 1882 when the first tornado researcher started gathering information on weather patterns and damages in the hopes of saving lives in the future. According to the NOAA website, U.S. Army Signal Corps Sergeant John P. Finley was assigned tornado duty and he was the first person to establish forecasting methods, which he published in 1888.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Government banned the use of the word "tornado" from forecasts by the U.S. Army because they were afraid that the use of the word might cause people to panic. This rule was in place for the next forty years. This did not, however, prevent tornadoes from destroying homes and lives. On April 11, 1896, two tornadoes hit Colorado City in Mitchell County, Texas, killing a twelve year old boy and destroying five homes. On April 15, 1896, an F3 tornado destroyed numerous farms and killed two children near Faulkton, South Dakota. Imagine how different the results might have been if these families were issued a pamphlet from the U.S. Army warning them how to take shelter in a tornado?
On April 27, 2011, the deadliest outbreak of tornadoes since 1932 struck Dixie Alley in the American South. The NOAA's National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center Meteorologists issued the first warning eight days in advance. Local meteorologists started warning residents three days in advance. Most residents received a 24 minute warning that a series of tornadoes were on the ground. In spite of these advance warnings, a horrific number of lives were lost.
When I think about these warnings and the days of the pioneers when no warnings existed, and I think about what would have happened when the pioneers encountered these deadly tornadoes, I feel grateful that times have changed, that warnings do come, and although far too many lives were lost, the situation could have been much worse.
The way I see it, the NOAA's National Weather Service Storm Prediction Center Meteorologists and our local Meteorologists are true Western heroes.