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1955: A&M connects radar systems into first weather-warning network

A tornado touches the ground in an open field

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Sixty years ago, faculty and students at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas began to nurse an unproven technology – radar – into a three-state network designed to provide Texas residents with advance warning about tornado activity.

On June 26, 1955, about 50 weather experts, civil defense personnel and government officials from across the nation gathered in College Station to launch the Texas Radar Tornado Warning Network. Erle Hardy, regional director of the U.S. Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service), pushed a button that activated the radar system.

All of this occurred just two years after a series of deadly tornadoes, including one that killed 114 people in Waco, swept across the state.

As early as 1945, weather experts thought it was possible to detect tornados with radar. Unfortunately, not all tornadoes presented distinctive radar patterns, and not all storms that created suspicious radar patterns also produced tornadoes.

Nevertheless, students and faculty at what is now Texas A&M University connected 17 radar systems into a network that linked Texas with two states.

The Texas Radar Tornado Warning Network is believed to be the first advance warning system of tornadoes in the country.

By the end of 1955, there was little doubt the system worked. Despite suffering a record 164 tornadoes, Texas recorded only two deaths related to the storms.