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Traumafessions :: Reader Kurt on Old Severe Weather Warnings

July 11th, 2008 by aunt john · 13 Comments

Kids in this high-tech age don’t know how coddled they are when severe weather is forecast!  Today, you’ve got all these electronic graphics with little maps in the corner, crawls across the screen, and now and then a weatherbabe (or weatherguy) may come on to give logical, reasoned updates.

Not so when I was a kid in the ’70s.

Even for a Severe Thunderstorm Watch, the programming would stop, the TV screen would fill with some ominous-looking graphic (still, of course, no movement back in those days) screaming whatever watch/warning it was in all caps, vivid colors…and worst of all, that infernal, screaming, shrill Emergency Broadcasting Service tone!  Then usually an announcer with The Voice Of Doom would come on and provide the “public service” of warning us all of impending tornadoes, damaging winds and large hail that were SURELY going to target the house you lived in and make Dorothy’s tornado in THE WIZARD OF OZ about as scary as a silent fart.

Almost as bad were the “ALL CLEAR” statements that would come on-screen when the danger was supposedly past…except that the graphics were usually in more soothing shades of green and white.

The fake warnings created on YouTube are laughable compared to the horrifying simplicity of the bulletins back in the 1970s that made me want to scream running for the cellar – and, worse, my parents made me watch them because it was “educational“!

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13 responses so far ↓

  • 1 micksterNo Gravatar // Jul 11, 2008 at 10:45 am

    Wow! Those types of warnings terrified me as a child too! Kurt, I don’t know what part of the country you are from, but I grew up in North Alabama (tornado alley). I learned quickly as a child to take those threats seriously. I still have vague memories of the super outbreak of tornadoes in April of 1974 (http://www.april31974.com/ ). I remember being in the hallway on a pillow and the sound of the wind coming through the windows (this was back when they told you to open windows). However, to be honest I don’t know if I actually remember those things, or if I have been told the story, so many times I just think I remember them. Anyway, Kurt, I feel your pain on the severe weather warnings.

  • 2 kittyleclawNo Gravatar // Jul 11, 2008 at 11:08 am

    I live in a part of Canada without much severe weather to speak of (we are quite adept at dealing with mountains of snow and ice), so I had to make due watching Emergency Broadcast System tests on the station from Syracuse, NY in order to get my scare-on.

  • 3 mamamiasweetpeachesNo Gravatar // Jul 11, 2008 at 11:16 am

    ohmyGod, I dont think any of us is ever gonna forget that SOUND! I remember watching TV and this thing with colored bars popping up and a loud shrill alarm going off and the warning voice saying “This is only a test”. I always wondered why they did that – it NEVER was a Real Emergency!
    The funny thing is I lived in Queens, New York (not exactly Hurricane Capitol Of The World) and every time ANOTHER part of the world had an earthquake, tornado or a hurricane it was always presented in such a way that somehow WE were gonna get affected by it too! I remember some kind of Flood Warning once when I was a kid: Me and my best friend locked ourselves in my basement and wouldn’t come out (which is STUPID- cuz obviously if there WAS a flood my basement would be the first thing to fill up with water!)

  • 4 sbdNo Gravatar // Jul 11, 2008 at 2:45 pm

    I don’t remember the TV warnings in Wichita, Kansas but I remember when there was a tornado warning at night the city would turn on the air raid siren which got us up pretty damn quick.  We’d all huddle around my grandpa’s shortwave listening to the emergency bands and drinking Dr. Pepper (in the old bottles with the 10 2 4 on them) listening for any news that we should scurry into the basement.

    Of course, that was nothing compared to my Mom actually having to pull off under and overpass once on the turnpike while we waited for a tornado to pass a couple hundred yards away…  Or flying into the Wichita airport with the WORST turbulence I’ve ever experienced in my life – to be greeted by several tornados coming toward the parking lot from about a half mile away.

    The mid-west is fun!

  • 5 OberstKurtNo Gravatar // Jul 12, 2008 at 2:42 am

    Kurt here.  I grew up in Northern Indiana, which isn’t really “Tornado Alley” but has its share.  Palm Sunday 1965 (a few months before I was born) was one of the worst tornado outbreaks in history, detailed here: http://www.crh.noaa.gov/ind/april111965.php The picture of the double funnel is about five miles from where I grew up. After that, the Weather Service in northern Indiana got paranoid and any time bad weather threatened they’d go into overdrive and blast the big “SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WATCH!” “SEVERE THUNDERSTORM WARNING!” “TORNADO WATCH!” “TORNADO WARNING!” all over the TV with that grating Emergency Broadcast System signal…those “public service” warnings scared the hell out of me! The EBS “tests” weren’t so bad, though sometimes I could get lulled into a sense of false security when that tone would sound, and I’d think it was “only a test” and I’d look at the TV…”TORNADO WATCH!” and about crap my pants. Now I live in Michigan, not far from the Canadian border, and there are much fewer tornado alerts up here. The graphic “PREPARE TO DIE!” illustrated here shows just how I felt as a pre-adolescent when those things would come on! Through it all, I’ve never actually seen a tornado!

  • 6 mamamiasweetpeachesNo Gravatar // Jul 12, 2008 at 10:04 am

    I STILL kive in Queens, New York and people are always like “Oh, you’re from New York. It must be so scary”  Ummmmm…..NO! We don’t have earthquakes, we don’t have tornadoes, we don’t have hurricanes ……We don’t even get really bad snowstorms (the people in UPSTATE New York get it, but we don’t) So what’s a few roaches and muggers? I have picked my poison and I am sticking with it! When I see the sh!t that goes on in other places I’m relieved that I live here.

  • 7 micksterNo Gravatar // Jul 12, 2008 at 12:12 pm

    I was still living at home not far from this devastating tornado in November of 1989: part 1

    part 2

    and part 3

    At the time of this tornado in April 1998 I was living in Birmingham:

    Luckily, for me I haven’t seen a tornado. The closest I’ve come was one year at the beach when I saw a water spout. That was scary enough for me.

  • 8 aunt johnNo Gravatar // Jul 13, 2008 at 12:08 am

    @ Mickster: Move to Philly! Sure, the gun-related homicide rate here is well above the national average, but we never have to worry about those pesky tornadoes.

  • 9 micksterNo Gravatar // Jul 13, 2008 at 12:45 pm

    @ aunt john: Thanks! I will keep that in mind the next time a tornado whips down the pike. I did try Montana out for about 3 years, but I missed my family too much, so I came back tornadoes and all.

  • 10 sbdNo Gravatar // Jul 13, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    All the YouTube vids are great but if you really want a semi-realistic tornado experience, find a theater showing of Wizard of Oz and sit right up front – a TV showing doesn’t do it justice unless you’ve got a HUGE screen and a truly excellent sound system.  Either that, or look for a Werner Herzog festival and watch Where the Green Ants Dream.  The main part of the film is kind of a big WTF? but the first 10 minutes are actual footage of a twister coming slowly towards the camera.  I remember sitting with my knees up and my knuckles up against my mouth.

  • 11 OberstKurtNo Gravatar // Jul 15, 2008 at 12:37 am

    It wasn’t actually the tornado that scared me, it was the TV warnings!  They made it sound like it knew me, where I was, and that it was coming to get me!

  • 12 RexiferNo Gravatar // Sep 26, 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Yes! I was a kid living in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas at various times during the 70’s, and know exactly what you’re talking about. The ominous evil graphic that is most burned in my mind is of a simple silhouette picture of a tornado that covered the entire sky at the top of the screen, winding down to a spindly, sharp point, stabbing the ground right in the backyard of a single home. It looked vicious and evil to my young eyes, and that shrill EBS scream, that crawl at the bottom of the screen warning of impending doom, and the total absence of human presence on the screen definitely had a chilling impact on me as a child.

    I later had read somewhere that the reason that was how they did weather alerts back in those days was because the methods for modeling severe weather predictions were so shoddy, they simply wouldn’t know (or gamble) to pay the meterologist to stay around past the news in those small town stations, so the only people around when the NWS issued alerts were the broadcast engineer(s)…

    Towards the end of the 70s, I do remember them starting to have meterologists cut in and describe what was going on, but still using those evil graphics as an intro/bumber. These days I’ve noticed they still do that, but with some flashy 3D CGI with a slogan like “WeatherEdge” that’s meant to pimp out the station’s awesome weather team, instead of frighten the living crap out of you.

  • 13 mitgarandNo Gravatar // Jul 2, 2014 at 5:38 am

    Grew up in Central Illinois. Still remember 1970s tornado warning bulletins from Peoria ABC affiliate WRAU Channel 19 (now WHOI), NBC affiliate WEEK Channel 25, and CBS affiliate WMBD Channel 31. Channel 31 used a cartoon graphic of a tornado for their bulletins, with information usually narrated by then weatherman Bob Larson. Barely got my attention. Channel 25 used a bright red screen with three horizontal white lines with TORNADO in white letters between the first and second line, and WARNING in white letters between the second and third line. Weather information was announced by Vic Burnett in the early half of the 1970s and Bill Houlihan in the latter half of the decade. Fairly good graphic and voices for getting my attention. But no one, and I mean no one, could scare the hell out of me like Channel 19 and voice of doom weather man Rollie Keith. You’re watching TV, and all of a sudden, your program is interrupted by a picture of a big nasty black tornado, and big letters spelling out TORNADO WARNING. I swear the letters were blood red, but maybe it’s just my imagination. I think the tornado was even bearing down on a little farm. And then if you weren’t already scared witless, here comes Rollie Keith’s baritone “you’re going to die!” voice announcing the details: “We interrupt this program for a special weather bulletin. The National Weather Service has issued a tornado WARNING [he always emphasized the word ‘warning’] for _______ county until [such and such time].” He went on to describe if it was a funnel cloud or an actual tornado on the ground, whether it was spotted by law enforcement or “by the public” and the location of the storm as well as its speed and direction. Wish I could find a recording of one of Channel 19’s tornado warnings or even the on-air graphic they used at the time.

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