Although the main characters in this story weren’t Mormon, we thought our LDS readers would enjoy it. The incredible timing of events sounds like a perfect example of a tender mercy of the Lord.
I testify that the tender mercies of the Lord are real and that they do not occur randomly or merely by coincidence. Often, the Lord’s timing of His tender mercies helps us to both discern and acknowledge them. —Elder David A. Bednar
While two tornadoes striking the same air force base in just 6 days seems like the worst kind of coincidence, the 2 tornadoes that hit Tinker Air Force Base in 1948 ended up being a tender mercy.
On March 20, 1948, a tornado ripped through Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma. It missed most of the buildings, but tore through the airfield causing 10 million dollars of damage to military aircraft, and injuries to personal. The base command was upset that they had very little warning that a storm was coming, and no warning at all that it might be severe enough to produce a tornado. They were told that “due to the nature of the storm it was not forecastable given the present state of the art.”
Not liking this answer, and recognizing that the base and the public at large really needed a little warning when tornadoes were likely, the base command asked base personal to investigate whether this could have been predicted. The base’s meteorologists were Major Ernest J. Fawbush and Captain Robert C. Miller. Using all of their training, they immediately poured over the data with a sense of urgency.
Elder David A. Bednar has explained that tender mercies aren’t random, but that we invite them into our lives with “faithfulness, obedience, and humility.” The leaders and the meteorologists at Tinker Air Force Base showed these qualities by making assignments after they were prompted to take action, and diving into them right away. If they had put it off for even a few days, they would not have been in the position to receive a tender mercy.
After obsessing over the weather data from March 20th, Fawbush and Miller noticed some distinct and unusual weather patterns that they believed might indicate the possibility of a tornado. They presented their findings 4 days after the first tornado. The very next day, on March 25th, they noticed the exact same weather pattern developing. Although tornadoes do hit the same area occasionally, it is practically unheard of for a tornado to hit an exact area as small as an air force base twice in 6 days.
Because it seemed so unlikely to have a second twister again so soon, Fawbush and Miller felt some hesitation about announcing the danger. According to the data and their theory however, the threat was real. They felt a moral obligation to risk looking foolish, and issued the first ever tornado forecast, warning of the possibility of severe weather between 5 and 6 pm. The base command had also been diligent in immediately developing a set of protocols they would enact if they ever had an advanced tornado forecast. They took the precautions; they secured their most expensive equipment, tied down what they could, and moved personal to safe places.
When the second tornado in 6 days hit the base at 6 pm on March 25th, they were much more prepared. There were no injuries, and the 6 million dollars of damage was considerably less than the 10 million dollars of damage caused on May 20th. Perhaps most importantly, the theory about what weather conditions indicated tornado risk was immediately and strongly verified. Fawbush and Miller continued to use their new system during 1949, and correctly forecast 18 times when a tornado was likely within a 100 mile radius.
The personal at Tinker Air Force Base were doing their part to qualify for a tender mercy of the Lord; they acted immediately on the prompting to research weather patterns after the first tornado hit, and had a plan in place if their research bore fruit. The meteorologists had diligently acquired the education and training that allowed them to be in a position to interpret the data. Then they received an immediate and clear confirmation that they were on the right path. Such timing is indicative of a tender mercy of the Lord. Who knows, if the second tornado hadn’t hit and proved their theory so quickly, maybe their work would have been buried under piles of bureaucratic paperwork. Instead, it was released to the world, and it set the stage for more advanced weather forecasting that would save countless lives.