Until 1950, Weathermen Were Forbidden From Talking About Tornadoes

In the first half of the 20th century, tornadoes were all over the United States, destroying whole towns, screaming through the papers, tearing up the newsreels, and whipping Dorothy from Kansas to Oz. There was, however, one place you wouldn’t find them: the weather report. From 1887 until 1950, American weather forecasters were forbidden from attempting to predict tornadoes. Mentioning them was, in the words of one historian, “career suicide.” During that time, tornadoes were considered dark and mysterious menaces of unfathomable power, fast-striking monsters from the sky capable of sudden and unpredictable acts of death and devastation. Less than confident in their own powers of prediction and fearful of the responses of a panicked public, television stations forbade the use of the word “tornado" in forecasts and they were sometimes forbidden by the Weather Bureau. The word was replaced by euphemisms like “severe local storms.” Meanwhile, throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the death toll from tornadoes mounted. In 1950, the chief of the Weather Bureau backpedaled on the ban in an internal memo, writing “the forecaster (district or local) may at his discretion mention tornadoes in the forecast or warning.”