Pat Shingleton: "The Sergeant and the Warnings"
We've experienced two days of storm and tornado warnings in West Feliciana Parish and Wilkinson County on Wednesday and Tangipahoa on Thursday. With that noted, lets rewind to 1882 when the U.S. Army Signal Corps weather program was known as the “Division of Telegrams and Reports for the Benefit of Commerce and Agriculture.” Sgt. John P. Finley directed the program and was the first to initiate a program to understand local storms, especially tornadoes. He placed 1,000 “reporters” in the central and eastern sections of the United States to document tornado occurrences and damage. The Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society reports that Finley secured enough data to to create an outline of the general weather patterns that included surface lows and highs, temperature gradients and humidity readings. In March of 1884, with some degree of success, Finley was the first to initiate “tornado alerts” for large areas. In March, 1884. Finley’s plan was embraced by Edward S. Holden whose credentials included his graduation of the U.S. Military Academy, President of the University of California and librarian of the U.S. Military Academy. Holden extensively examined Finley’s findings and proposed a local warning system in the publication, “Science,” in 1883. Holden believed that a system could provide citizens a five minute warning to save lives. Bureaucrats contended that public panic would ensue if tornado warnings were issued and the Signal Corps banned the use of the word for its forecasts in 1886. Even though Holden’s warning system was never used, three components of its original design are in use today.
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