Tornadoes Put Midwest Hangars in Danger

1 decade 9 months 2 weeks ago Wednesday, August 08 2007 Aug 8, 2007 Wednesday, August 08, 2007 3:42:18 PM CDT August 08, 2007 in News

Stewards of the B2 stealth bomber -- scheduled to fly until the year 2050 -- explained just what their hangars can take.

"You get the shear and the turning of a tornado not much can protect the assets inside those hangars," said First Lieutenant Craig Towlson, Whiteman Weather officer.

"They'd be gone forever you would not replace these aircraft," said Staff Master Sergeant Steve Ramage.

Twisters that have rolled through tornado alley have seemed to have their sights set, at Tinker Air Force Base. It was hit twice in 1948. Those two twisters touched down within just five days of each other.  Then as recently as 1999, and 2003 more tornadoes struck the base.

But it was the two twisters of 1948 that stand out the most for Tinker. They hit the base's runways head on, in 1948. The damage totals reached $16 million

"This was right after the war. And they would still park the airplanes right out in the open on the runway. Tornado touched down, went down the runway. Took out a lot of aircraft," said Joe Schaefer, director of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla.

Five days later, another twister bears down on Tinker.

"The Pentagon actually had a board of inquiry fly in to Oklahoma City to look at what happened and why and come up with recommendations," Schaefer explained.

The two tornadoes would have a doubly important historic impact.

Forecasters at the base were able to predict the second tornado before it hit.

The prediction was the birth of modern tornado forecasting.

The base's next encounter wouldn't be until May 3, 1999, when a massive F-5 descended on the suburbs south of Oklahoma City.

"And you can see the airfield, right there in the picture, and it had been on a B-line right for the airfield," said Captain Justin Erwin, Tinker weather officer.

"It would have looked like a war zone, to put it mildly because that sort of tornado, especially an F-4 or F-5 tornado damage looks like," said Schaefer.  "It's just a path of destruction right along it."

In the last few seconds it turned, but not without dealing a glancing blow to the base's perimeter.

"We actually had the housing addition to our west heavily damaged and a lot of injuries walking over to our clinic for treatment," Erwin said.

Tinker had another tornadic encounter in 2003. But it's not the only base that's seen tornado damage.

The buildings at McConnell Air Force Base faced a massive F-5 in April 1991. That storm killed 17 people and damaged base buildings.

After scouring what's known as the Unified Facilities Criteria Structural Wind Load Data KOMU News found more than 30 bases with 90 mile per hour ratings, 18 of which exist in the nation's midsection.

The Enhanced Fujita Scale has five levels. The most powerful tornado an E-F 5, with strong tornados typically reaching wind speeds of well over 90 MPH.

Department of Defense documents obtained by KOMU News show hangars housing the world's most expensive aircraft, still won't stand up to even the weakest of tornadoes, including those at Whiteman, McConnell and Tinker.

It is something many are in agreemnet about given that last base's history, but a commander at Tinker has a startling assessment.

"It's not a matter of if it's going to happen, but when it's going to happen. We know tornadoes are inevitable here in this area, so we take it real seriously and we prepare as much as we can," said Lieutenant Colonel David Parr, a commander at Tinker.

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