Not many people- let alone a 13-year-old can predict a tornado hours before it strikes based SOLELY on cloud types. So the afternoon of April 19, 1966 was hard for me to concentrate on classwork - I'd grab a desk near a window and mostly keep at least one eye on the sky beyond.
My noon-time prediction had apparently made the 'did you hear?' rounds of youthful conversation until school was let out for the day around 3:15 pm.. But when a friend and I came out an east door of Southeast Junior high school - we didn't immediately understand the small clumps of students north of the school looking west with looks of both amazement and shock on their faces.
There it was - a classic dark-gray tornado funnel back lighted by sunshine. The twister was doing it's last damage in Overland Park around another school- Katherine Carpenter elementary- at 96th Street and Knox. We didn't know it was that far away - so most of us became impromptu track stars.
Even after seeing the tornado and running most of that mile-distance home - there was no warning either by Civil Defense siren (one of which was atop the high school) nor TV broadcast.
That's right. For at LEAST 15 minutes AFTER I saw a tornado in Overland Park and ran that mile home - all 3 TV stations (Channel 19 didn't count) were still running regular programming!
By early 1967, I was enjoying whatever status being the "school weatherman" at Southeast High school afforded. I was literally absorbing whatever textbooks the library had on meteorology.
Finding most of those books written for grade or junior-high level- I would go to the main library downtown on weekends seeking more advanced - university texts - on the subject.
So one late January day after seeing dark storm clouds with cloud to ground lightning about to pounce - I began running off the athletic fields during gym class, most of the other boys followed. Bringing up the rear of that exodus (and being buffeted by 50-mile-per-hour wind gusts) was a confused and somewhat irritated gym teacher.
That teacher apologised for chastising me the next day- the severe thunderstorm I was running from had produced a killer tornado at a school about 25 miles away.
One February morning an article appeared in the KANSAS CITY TIMES about a 14-year-old fellow who had an amateur weather station in one of his Mom's vacant apartment units in Kansas City's (at the time- Italian) North End.
Being of the old school- I sent Phil Wall a letter- expressing to him my devotion to the study of weather. Another teen aged boy from Prairie Village also contacted Phil.
Over the next several weeks, the 3 of us - Phil, John Rowlands and myself kept in contact - and made big plans.
The three of us would get together March 24 at John's suburban house and form our own weather organization - The Kansas City Weather Service. First and foremost - we pledged accuracy and responsibility in whatever endeavors we would undertake.
After newspaper articles, TV news interviews and an appearance on the legendary Walt Bodine's 'Night Beat' talk show on WHB, our organization grew quickly from the original 3 to more than two-dozen weather-minded teens throughout the KC Metro.
Our main goal was to provide a network of trained storm spotters who would report instantly to a central location - that lack of warning even AFTER the fact on April 19, 1966 burned within me and continues even to this day.
Phil and I had long wave radio receivers- that picked up hourly aviation weather reports from hundreds of miles away during the day- thousands of miles away at night. With those station reports, radar data and rudimentary upper wind data, we hand-made our own synoptic weather maps and issued daily forecasts.
We contacted radio stations throughout the area- offering our free weather services. At the peak of our operation in 1969, we had 4 area radio stations broadcasting our recorded information daily, more than 50 teen weather observers locally and had even started similar independent teen-operated organizations in at least 4 other states across the country.
By 1969, we were actually competing with another teenage weather outfit in town (oddly- competition I helped start). One of our own people even started an international weather service.
At one point, the government's National Weather Service - in a letter - actually threatened us and the radio stations we provided information to. Those stations did not subscribe to the then-expensive weather teletype system. The government's claims were baseless - we would ONLY parrot 'official' watches and warnings to the stations and often provided safety information during these broadcasts.
By this time, most of us had driver's licenses - and a couple of times a year we'd go out "storm spotting" (years later this would be known as 'storm chasing'- and these experiences would come in handy on May 4, 1977).
The Kansas City Amateur Weather Service (the 'Amateur' was our compromise to the government's threats) lasted until about early 1971. By then most of us had become mobile young adults with other obligations.
Oddly, none of us would get a degree in meteorology - but what we learned about weather early in life and continued to learn through the years would serve us well in our careers.
Phil would become a dispatcher for the KC, MO. fire department and retire as a chief dispatcher a few years ago, John ("Johnny") Rowlands went into broadcast media and I would become a firefighter and later also get into local broadcast news media. Since the mid-1970's all 3 of the original KCWS members would play our own parts in local weather history.
Also a toast to all young people who enrich not only themselves but our community with their dedication of time and efforts to helping others.