First Documented Radar Hook Echo

The Illinois State Water Survey is home to the first ever documented radar hook associated with an actual tornado. Water Survey staff captured the historic event on film on April 9, 1953. This was a major turning point in monitoring severe weather, demonstrating that tornadoes could be identified by radar. This discovery helped lead to the first national weather radar network in the United States.

The radar was located at Willard Airport, south of Champaign IL, and was being used along with a rain gauge network to relate radar signals with rain rates. Don Staggs, the radar technician, had stayed late to complete repairs on the radar. While testing the repairs, he noticed an interesting radar return and began recording the radar scope using the mounted 35 mm camera. As a result, he captured a well-defined hook echo (see photo) on film. Afterwords, researchers related this information to damage and photos along the tornado’s path. More images and information of this event are in the links provided under the photograph.

Radar hook echo
First recorded radar hook echo of a tornado, April 9, 1953, near Champaign, IL (photo courtesy of the Illinois State Water Survey, INRS, University of Illinois).

Additional information on this event:

I talked about this event when Tom Skilling, WGN-TV, hosted his annual Tornado and Severe Storm Seminar at Fermilab in Batavia, IL on April 10, 2010. The video of the presentation is on the WGN-TV web site.

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