Spring is here, and in a lot of places, spring is also tornado season.

Today in 1948, two meteorologists helped make things safer for those living in the path of severe storms: when they issued the first successful tornado warning.

The meteorologists worked for the US Air Force, Major Ernest J. Fawbush and Captain Robert C. Miller.

They were in charge of a weather station at the Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.

On March 20th, 1948, the base had been hit hard by a tornado.

It was as destructive a storm as the state had ever seen.

There was over $10 million dollars in damage to aircraft and other property on the base, including the operations center for the weather station.

The forecasters explained to the top brass that while forecasters could say a tornado was likely to develop, they couldn’t be sure about where or when it might hit.

Being in Oklahoma, the military base needed a heads-up about severe weather, so Fawbush and Miller set to work.

For the next few days they studied past tornadoes to see whether they could find patterns in the weather conditions ahead of time.

Just five days after the storm they had a theory, and they wouldn’t have to wait long to test it out.

The conditions for that very day were similar to the ones that led to the tornado that had cut right through the base.

Now, for years there had been a push in forecasting circles not to issue storm warnings.

The thinking was, why alarm people if severe weather doesn’t actually happen as predicted?

But Fawbush and Miller sent out their warning.

Anything that was movable, the base moved.

And sure enough, later that day, there was a funnel cloud headed toward Tinker.

There was damage again, but not nearly as much damage as there would have been without the tornado warning.

They had proved that meteorologists could predict tornadoes, and forecasters have been building on those techniques ever since.

Though being right about the storm came with some mixed feelings.

Miller once wrote a manuscript about his work that he understood how it might seem ghoulish from the outside for a forecaster to be proud of getting a severe weather forecast right.

He wrote: “We are really nice people but odd.”

You’ve probably heard of a player piano, where a sheet of instructions can direct the instrument to play certain notes at certain times?

Here’s something close to a player guitar.

The Circle Guitar by Anthony Dickens has a rotating sequencer disc that can make the strings vibrate in a pattern.

A guitarist would still fret those strings and choose the notes, but in tandem with the sequencer, which creates some new and exciting sonic possibilities.

The Types of Airmasses in Which North American Tornadoes Form (JSTOR)

The First Operational Tornado Forecast Twenty Million to One (American Meteorological Society)

Flash-Tornado Warning! (The Saturday Evening Post via Archive.org)

self-playing electric ‘circle guitar’ can pick at up to 250 bpm (designboom)

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Photo by Niccolò Ubalducci via Flickr/Creative Commons