Tuesday, August 14, 2018

I Was The Original "Tornado Baby"

Many folks have asked me why I became a Meteorologist and more specifically why I'm so fascinated by tornadoes.  Ironically, the answer is simple:  I'm the original "Tornado Baby."

I bet you're thinking to yourself, 'all right Bryan, this better be good.'

Well, once I discovered the connection; I always thought it was very interesting and at times even creepy, almost a destiny.

Let me explain...

Back in the 1960s and 70s there were many tornado outbreaks and events that caused quite a bit of destruction across the nation; and received an unprecedented amount of media coverage.

Of course, we're all familiar with the April 3, 1964 Wichita Falls Tornado.  It was the first tornado to be broadcast LIVE on TV.  And, it was retro-rated an F5, the highest on the original Fujita tornado scale.

And, just over 15 years later, there was the infamous (but lower rated, F4) tornado on April 10, 1979 that would forever be known as "Terrible Tuesday."  It was a 1.5 mile wide multi-vortex structure tornado.

Today the images are ingrained in many of our minds of that day.  Even the destruction photos are so familiar they can be viewed and immediately identified as the "Terrible Tuesday" tornado by a large portion of the Texoma public and meteorologists and tornado enthusiasts around the world.

Another outbreak during this time was the infamous "Palm Sunday Outbreak" in 1965.  It occurred on April 11-12. The number of people that perished in the two-day event was 271.

One of the famous photos from that event was the "double tornado" in Indiana that killed 14 people in a trailer park.

One map from that event shows the paths of multiple F3 and F4 rated tornadoes in northern Indiana, southern Michigan as well as northwest Ohio.

But, there is another tornado outbreak that I have a direct connection to.

I've been around for a while and am now enjoying mid-life.  But it was my beginning that set my destiny in motion.

My mother went into labor the night before I was born.  The labor, from what I understand was intense, but I can't imagine a birthing labor to be anything but that.  It went on for hours into the next day.

The weather outside was active as the previous night ended and became much colder as the second day began.  There was a reason for that.  It was a double cold front (or so it's analyzed to be believed now) that moved through southeast Iowa.  Yes, I was born in Keokuk, Iowa.

Now, Keokuk, is the only 'Keokuk' in the world.  (Although I recently discovered another town with Keokuk as it's first name with two words as it's name, can't really remember where it is).  

It's named after a Sac-Fox Chief from the region.  The town is proud of his and its' heritage.  They've had a statue of him there for many many years overlooking the grand and wide "Old Man River" Mississippi.

Here I am with Chief Keokuk, recently this year during a bit of a homecoming.

Now Keokuk sits at the junction of the Mississippi and Des Moines Rivers.  Where they meet are the states of Iowa, Missouri and Illinois.  The most important for this story is Illinois; just across from Keokuk.

In the hours of the evening before I was born the weather turned ugly in Illinois with showers and thunderstorms that turned severe and then tornadic.  First it was a few tornadoes, which is never a term that sounds good.  Then it was more . . . many more.

That night the tornadoes kept coming; similar to an army marching across Europe in WWII.

And, it wasn't just Illinois that experienced tornadoes.  It was also Indiana, Michigan, even into the province of Ontario, Canada.

As the evening turned to night my mother started breathing more rhythmic from the mid-70s training they taught expectant mothers and the news started coming out of those states that this was something ominous and it was just getting started.

As the night went on and the next day began the tornadoes ripped across the Midwest and Deep South creating about 2,600 miles of combined tornado path!

The states/province affected:  Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Ontario, New York, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The total number of 'confirmed' tornadoes was 148!  By sunrise it had been the largest tornado outbreak in the history of modern records on Earth.

Enlarge this graphic to see the location of each numbered sequence tornado.  Especially pay attention to the long paths in Indiana and Alabama.  If you're wondering where Keokuk, Iowa is, its just to the left of tornado #1.

At one point 15 tornadoes were ongoing at the same time.  It was truly a day of terror in 13 states and Ontario.

As the final tornadoes in Virginia and North Carolina were continuing to devastate and destroy on the morning of the second day of the outbreak . . . my mother gave birth.

It wasn't until ten years later in Hannibal, Missouri in Mark Twain Elementary School that I learned about tornadoes.

During that two day class we watched the documentary "Terrible Tuesday."  The images were tough to see for a ten year old but it stirred a curiosity in me of wanting to understand them, forecast them and to make sure I did all I could do to help people survive or escape them in the future.

But, then came the lesson on the largest tornado outbreak in history.  And, the teacher said the dates . . . April 3-4, 1974.  It was a moment of overwhelming epiphany for myself, even that young.  I realized I had been born during the outbreak in 1974.  By then it was known as 'Super Outbreak.'

My mind was blown!

I was being born during the outbreak.  And, I had a fascination about tornadoes.  It changed my perspective on weather and life forever.

From that two-day tornado lesson period on into the future I would go to the library and read all the books on tornadoes that I could get my hands on.  Librarians would discourage me from reading books that they felt were too graphic with photos or too detailed with scientific terminology, of course I didn't understand what much of it meant but I knew how to say the words.  That continued to fuel my desire to understand them and help others stay safe from them.

The rest is history.  But I was the original "Tornado Baby" or at least that's what they would later say about me, not because I was in one while I was being born but that somehow that event taking place while I was being born connected with me to guide my interests and expertise for decades to come.

If you found this interesting or have any additional questions for me please let me know anyway you can.

Thanks for reading today's blog.  I'll have to get thinking about the next one now.  This one was chosen from a readers suggestion, so thanks to everyone for reading and suggesting.

Bryan W. Rupp