Until 1950, Weathermen Were Forbidden To Use the Word “Tornado”

In the first half of the 20th century, tornadoes were all over the U.S., destroying whole towns, screaming through the papers, tearing up newsreels, and whipping Dorothy from Kansas to Oz. There was, however, once place you wouldn’t find them: weather reports. From 1887 until 1950, American weather forecasters were forbidden to attempt to predict tornadoes. In fact, mentioning them in a weather forecast was considered 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 predictive powers and fearful of the responses of a public in panic, weather officials believed that the harm done by such predictions would be greater than the damage done by the tornado itself. As meteorologist William Blasius put it in an 1887 meeting of the American Philosophical Society, “Just where the tornado will strike no man can tell until within a few minutes of its passage.” In 1950, the head of the Weather Bureau ended the ban, allowing forecasters to use the word "tornado" at their discretion. As a result, the annual tornado death toll has gone down significantly since the 1950s.