Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Severe Weather Safety Part 4--Tornado Safety In The Home, Part I

Although fast action is vital when a tornado strikes, knowing what NOT to do is just as important as knowing what you SHOULD do!  That being the case, let's take a look at tornado safety in the home.

First of all, let's look at what you should NOT do!  Specifically, you should NOT open the doors and windows in an attempt to equalize the air pressure inside and outside the house!  Although this procedure was recommended for many years, that recommendation was summarily dropped in the wake of the so-called "Super Outbreak" of April 3.1974.  (An "outbreak" is defined as the appearance of multiple tornadoes in a given area at approximately the same time.)  Up until that time, it was believed that tornadoes caused houses to "explode," due to the powerful updrafts (at speeds of over 100 miles per hour) generated in the tornado funnel.  The studies of ground damage which took place after this disaster (led by Dr. Ted Fujita, of the University of Chicago), however, proved beyond all question that this simply does not happen.  Rather than exploding, the houses are simply being blown over with massive force, although, to the untrained eye, they might look like they're exploding.  (If such explosions actually were exploding, the debris from the houses would be scattered more or less evenly in all directions.  Dr. Fujita's studies, however, showed that this simply is not the case.)  In fact, Dr. Fujita's studies showed that, rather than help save houses, trying to open the windows and doors, actually endangers people's lives, because they waste time that should be used in seeking proper shelter from the tornado's winds.  Besides, the tornado winds will most likely blast the doors and windows open anyway, as Dr. Fujita's studies and simulations clearly demonstrated.

Okay, we've established that opening windows and doors before a tornado strikes is worse than useless as a safety measure.  So what SHOULD you do?  The basic rule of thumb is to put as many walls between you and the tornado as you possibly can.  If you have  an underground shelter, such as an old-fashioned storm cellar, that is ideal.  A commercial above-ground storm shelter or "safe room" is the next best thing.  If none of these is available, then a basement area is a good place.  If, as in so many homes these days, you don't have either a basement or a safe room or a storm cellar, then a closet or bathroom (providing it does NOT have windows) is most likely your best bet.  (A bathroom without windows is particularly good because the extra framing required to hold the pipes and plumbing fixtures gives the walls of the bathroom considerable extra strength.)

If you're taking shelter in a bathroom, the best thing to do is to get down in the bathtub, curling up in the so-called "tornado crouch" (that is, getting down on  your knees and elbows, face down, covering the back of your neck with your hands and lower arms).  If you're in a closet, assume the "tornado crouch" position as described above, facing the innermost wall, particularly if you're in a so-called "walk-in" closet.  In any case, you should have shoes and socks on to protect your feet, a helmet of some kind (even a skating or bicycle helmet will help!) to help protect your head, and blankets, heavy coats, or even a mattress to help protect you against flying debris.  If you don't have a helmet, then pull a metal wastebasket over your head.  Since flying debris is the major cause of deaths and injuries from tornadoes, such precautions can literally mean the difference between life and death!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Reflections on September 2nd

At 9:00 A.M., local time, on September 2, 1945, on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri, an event took place which marked a seminal turning point in human history--namely, the end of  World War II.  It was a war which had been marked by more death and carnage, more loss and injury, more misery and suffering, than had ever occurred before in all of human history.  The death and destruction had been capped by the use of the atomic bomb on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, both of which had unleashed forces and energies such as mankind had never before experienced.  Even General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, the newly-appointed Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, who, as he would later state, knew war as few men then living knew it, had been deeply shocked and greatly sobered by what he had seen in the aftermath of the first two uses of nuclear weapons in all of recorded history.

It was in this spirit that MacArthur, to the admiration of even his harshest critics and detractors, planned and executed the Surrender Ceremonies in a manner that, to this day, stands as a shining example of grace, dignity, compassion, and magnanimity.  So it was that at 9:00 in the morning, on that fateful September 2nd, 1945, General MacArthur stepped up to a microphone and made the following statement:

"We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored.

The issues involving divergent ideals and ideologies have been determined on the battlefields of the world, and hence are not for our discussion or debate.

Nor is it for us here to meet, representing as we do a majority of the peoples of the earth, in a spirit of distrust, malice, or hatred.

But rather it is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone befits the sacred purposes we are about to serve, committing all of our peoples unreservedly to faithful compliance with the undertakings they are here formally to assume. It is my earnest hope, and indeed the hope of all mankind, that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past -- a world founded upon faith and understanding, a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish for freedom, tolerance, and justice. The terms and conditions upon which surrender of the Japanese Imperial Forces is here to be given and accepted are contained in the Instrument of Surrender now before you.

As Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, I announce it my firm purpose, in the tradition of the countries I represent, to proceed in the discharge of my responsibilities with justice and tolerance, while taking all necessary dispositions to insure that the terms of surrender are fully, promptly, and faithfully complied with.

I now invite the representatives of the Emperor of Japan and the Japanese government and the Japanese Imperial General Headquarters to sign the Instrument of Surrender at the places indicated."

In just over 15 minutes, the surrender documents were signed by all of the representatives of the warring powers.  Moments later, General MacArthur concluded the ceremony with these words:

"Let us pray that peace be now restored to the world and that God will preserve it always. These proceedings are closed."

After the Japanese officials had left, General MacArthur stepped up to a different microphone than the one he had used earlier and broadcast a statement whose salient points remain just as applicable today as they were on that eventful day in 1945:

“My fellow countrymen:  Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won. The skies no longer rain death. The seas bear only commerce. Men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world is quietly at peace. The holy mission has been completed. And, in reporting this to you, the people, I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles, and the beaches, and in the deep waters of the Pacific, which marked the way. I speak for the unnamed brave millions homeward bound to take up the challenge of that future which they did so much to salvage from the brink of disaster.

As I look back on the long, tortuous trail from those grim days of Bataan and Corregidor, when an entire world lived in fear, when democracy was on the defensive everywhere, when modern civilization trembled in the balance, I thank a merciful God that He has given us the faith, the courage and the power from which to mold victory. We have known the bitterness of defeat and the exultation of triumph, and from both we have learned there can be no turning back. We must go forward to preserve in peace what we won in war.

A new era is upon us. Even the lesson of victory itself brings with it profound concern, both for our future security and the survival of civilization. The destructiveness of the war potential, through progressive advances in scientific discovery, has in fact now reached a point which revises the traditional concepts of war.

Men since the beginning of time have sought peace. Various methods through the ages have attempted to devise an international process to prevent or settle disputes between nations. From the very start, workable methods were found insofar as individual citizens were concerned, but the mechanics of an instrumentality of larger international scope have never been successful. Military alliances, balances of power, leagues of nations, all in turn failed, leaving the only path to be by way of the crucible of war. The utter destructiveness of war now blots out this alternative. We have had our last chance. If we do not devise some greater and more equitable system, Armageddon will be at our door. The problem basically is theological and involves a spiritual recrudescence and improvement of human character that will synchronize with our almost matchless advances in science, art, literature and all material and cultural developments of the past two thousand years. It must be of the spirit if we are to save the flesh.

We stand in Tokyo today reminiscent of our countryman, Commodore Perry, ninety-two years ago. His purpose was to bring to Japan an era of enlightenment and progress, by lifting the veil of isolation to the friendship, trade, and commerce of the world. But, alas, the knowledge thereby gained of western science was forged into an instrument of oppression and human enslavement. Freedom of expression, freedom of action, even freedom of thought, were denied through suppression of liberal education, through appeal to superstition, and through the application of force. We are committed by the Potsdam Declaration of Principles to see that the Japanese people are liberated from this condition of slavery. It is my purpose to implement this commitment just as rapidly as the armed forces are demobilized and other essential steps taken to neutralize the war potential.

The energy of the Japanese race, if properly directed, will enable expansion vertically rather than horizontally. If the talents of the race are turned into constructive channels, the county can lift itself from its present deplorable state into a position of dignity.

To the Pacific basin has come the vista of a new, emancipated world. Today, freedom is on the offensive, democracy is on the march. Today, in Asia as well as in Europe, unshackled peoples are tasting the full sweetness of liberty, the relief from fear.

In the Philippines, America has evolved a model for this new free world of Asia. In the Philippines, America has demonstrated that peoples of the East and peoples of the West may walk side by side in mutual respect and with mutual benefit. The history of our sovereignty there has now the full confidence of the East.

And so, my fellow countrymen, today I report to you that your sons and daughters have served you well and faithfully, with the calm, deliberate, determined fighting spirit of the American soldier and sailor, based upon a tradition of historical truth, as against the fanaticism of an enemy supported only by mythological fiction. Their spiritual strength and power has brought us through to victory. They are homeward bound—take care of them.”

It is a matter of record, as reported by numerous radio correspondents who were present at the time, that as the surrender ceremonies came to a close, the dark, depressing, forbidding layer of clouds which had hung over Tokyo Bay throughout the morning suddenly broke open, and bright shafts and beams of sunlight came streaming through the skies.  As at least one radio correspondent commented at that moment, it was as if God Himself were expressing His approval, and His relief that the single most destructive conflict mankind had ever inflicted upon itself had finally come to an end.

At this moment in history, the United States was at the very peak of its national power, just as Britain had been at the peak of its national power at the end of the First World War in 1918.  Sadly, since that time, both nations have been in a state of inexorable decline, due to their abandoning the moral and spiritual principles on which both of their governments were founded.  Scripture foretells that, unless our two peoples return to those same principles, our nations will suffer the greatest national punishment that any peoples have ever been required to undergo.  In this ever more turbulent and volatile period of mankind's existence, it is more important--nay, more essential--than ever before, that the Anglo-American family of nations heed that most eloquent warning which was sounded in 1903 by the Spanish philosopher and historian, Georges Santayana:  "THOSE WHO FAIL TO LEARN THE LESSONS OF HISTORY ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT THEM!"  May a just yet merciful God help our peoples to do just that!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Fritz Borum: An Unsung Pioneer

The year 2013 marks the 65th anniversary of the operational tornado forecast. It is not so well known, however, that it also marks the 65th anniversary of the first successful implementation of a large-scale tornado safety plan, particularly at a government facility. While the two men responsible for the actual forecast, Robert Miller and Ernest Fawbush, have been justly celebrated and memorialized for their work, another individual played a part in this dramatic sequence, which, while much less celebrated, was just as important in reducing property damage and injuries, and, especially, saving human lives. The purpose of this article is to remedy this injustice, and give this individual the acclaim that this writer feels is his rightful due. His name: Major General Fred Sydney Borum, better known to his friends as “Fritz” Borum.

The events in question took place at Tinker Air Force Base, not far from what is now Will Rogers World Airport, near Oklahoma City, in March of 1948. At 10 P.M. on the evening of March 20, a large, ferocious tornado funnel began a 7-minute trip across the base, damaging or destroying some 100 aircraft. One such plane, a B-29 bomber, weighing in excess of 68 tons, was picked up by the twister and flung more than 100 yards away. A C-54 was flipped on its back as if it had been made of paper. Winds speeds on the ground as high as 78 miles an hour were recorded before the base’s weather instruments broke. (Local weathermen later projected wind speeds in excess of 100 MPH.) Heavy hail, torrential rains, and continuous lightning only served to make matters even worse. Although only 6 persons were reported as having been injured, Miller (in an unpublished manuscript entitled “The Unfriendly Sky”) bluntly stated that, “The control tower personnel were badly cut [by flying glass and debris].”

It was at this point that Fritz Borum came into the picture. A respected expert in the field of air materiel management, Borum had been in command of Tinker AFB since July 1945. He had only recently returned from a 3-month assignment in which he had organized and supervised the care and maintenance of the aircraft involved in the Berlin Airlift. He had grown up in Oklahoma, and was actually more familiar with Oklahoma's violent weather patterns than Miller and Fawbush, both of whom had been assigned to Tinker's weather station only weeks before. An avid amateur weather buff in his own right, Borum was a radar expert as well. Miller, in fact, stated: “He was very interested and most knowledgeable when it came to weather. He was highly proficient in the operation of our local radar and loved to watch the scope during thunderstorm outbreaks.”

With such a background as this, it was not surprising that, at a formal inquiry the next day, General Borum thoroughly grilled Miller and Fawbush as to why they had not in fact forecast a tornado. When he was told that forecasting tornadoes was impossible, and that the U.S. Weather Bureau had expressly forbidden even the use of the word “tornado” in any official weather statement since the 1870's, Borum all but went up in smoke. He forcefully rejected any and all such notions, and specifically directed Miller and Fawbush to begin research into the subject without delay.

While the two forecasters were conducting their research, in compliance with the formal directive of the board of inquiry, Borum got together with his staff to prepare a Base Tornado Safety Plan to help reduce or minimize injuries and property damage in the event of any future tornado or other severe weather outbreaks. Within three days, the new plan was complete and ready to put into effect.

As it turned out, Borum and his staff completed their work none too soon, for on the morning of March 25th, Miller and Fawbush reported that developing weather patterns in the central Oklahoma basin were becoming frighteningly similar to those that had existed only five days before. Borum immediately went to the Tinker weather station to discuss the situation with the two men. After looking at the images on the radar scope, Borum's initial response was to direct Miller and Fawbush to issue what today would be called a Severe Thunderstorm Watch. In conjunction with this forecast, the initial phases of the Base Tornado Safety Plan were implemented. The General then returned home, asking to be informed of further developments.

Those developments were not long in coming, for by 2 o'clock in the afternoon, a squall line had developed, and became increasingly dangerous and intense. Borum was notified, and immediately returned to the weather station. He spent ten long minutes watching the scope and discussing the squall line's movement and intensity. Then, suddenly, Borum shot to his feet, looked the two forecasters in the eye, and asked, “Are you going to issue a tornado forecast?”

Fawbush and Miller, realizing that their careers could well be on the line, made a desperate attempt to back out. They pointed out that the odds against a second tornado hitting the base in such a short period of time were less than 1 in 20 million. Borum, however, was in no mood to accept such hemming and hawing. His face turning brick red with anger, his vocabulary liberally seasoned with military expletives, Borum yelled at the top of his lungs, “ARE WE GOING TO HAVE ANOTHER TORNADO OR NOT? YES OR NO?”

Swallowing hard, the two men took a deep breath and answered, “Yes, sir, we believe we are.” Borum thereupon ordered them to prepare a tornado forecast for immediate dissemination throughout the base. As they began doing so, they timidly pointed that no one had ever prepared a tornado forecast such as this before. “Fine!” Borum snapped. “You are about to set a precedent!”

Realizing that further arguments would be worse than useless, Fawbush composed the world's first operational tornado forecast—what would be called a Tornado Watch today—and handed it over to Miller, who typed it up and took it to the Base Operations office for immediate distribution. Meanwhile, Borum got on the phone and directed his staff to put all remaining phases of the new Tornado Safety Plan into immediate execution.

Despite its bureaucratic detail, Borum's Tornado Safety Plan can be boiled down into five basic steps, all of which have long since become accepted practice in severe weather safety. First, as many planes as possible were moved into hangars on the Base, the doors and windows of which were then shut. Secondly, all remaining planes on the Base were tied down as securely as possible. Third, all loose objects and equipment were moved indoors and secured. Fourth, all incoming air traffic was diverted away from the Base until further notice. Fifth, and most importantly, all personnel were evacuated to basement shelters and to the lowest floor interior areas of thick, solid, sturdy buildings.

Shortly after his shift ended at 4:45 P.M., Miller left and drove home. Both he and Fawbush felt certain that their careers as weather forecasters were about to go down the drain. So much so, in fact, that Miller later wrote that he actually wondered if he could make a living as a civilian elevator operator!

As it turned out, they needn't have worried, for just before 6 P.M., another tornado formed, striking in almost the exact same place, and following almost exactly the same path, as its predecessor from five days earlier. From his back porch, Borum watched what he described as a radish-shaped, dirty yellow colored funnel tear through his base like a gigantic buzz-saw, only to dissipate five minutes later.

When all was said and done, the final damage estimate was an additional $6 million on top of the $10 million in damage from 5 days before. 84 aircraft, primarily B-29's and P-47's were hit by the twister, 35 of them damaged beyond repair. Hundreds of yards of steel planking, used as a parking surface for the aircraft, were ripped off the ground and crumpled. Winds on the ground at the edge of the storm were measured at approximately 80 miles per hour, accompanied by “moderate” hail.

Despite all of this carnage, there was, in fact, considerable good news to report. For one thing, the final damage total was an incredible 40% LESS than the damage total from only five days previous. Even more important was the fact that only one minor injury was reported—a stark testament to the wisdom of General Borum's Tornado Safety Plan, which had now officially passed its baptism of fire.

As was characteristic of him, Fritz Borum receded into the background, allowing Fawbush and Miller to receive the glory they rightly deserved. To the end of their lives, however, both men, and Miller especially, repeatedly stated that they felt that Borum should have received as much credit as they had. After all, they pointed out to anyone who would listen, it was Borum who had pushed the two men into making the historic tornado prediction in the first place. Even more important than that was the fact that it was Borum and his staff who had devised the Tornado Safety Plan for Tinker Air Force Base, which, in turn, had produced such a spectacular reduction in property damage, and, especially, in injuries to base personnel. Thus, Borum had played just as vital a role in the development of severe weather safety practices and procedures as Fawbush and Miller had in developing techniques for predicting severe weather.

Fritz Borum retired from the Air Force in June of 1954, at the age of 62. He spent his last years as a vice president of Liberty National Bank and Trust Company in Oklahoma City, and played a major role in the development of what is now Will Rogers World Airport. He died of bone cancer on October 25, 1978, in Cocoa Beach, and was buried, with appropriate honors, at the Florida Memorial Gardens in Cocoa, Florida.