Old Photos: Kansas City Severe Local Storm Warning Center SELS

One of my favorite scenes from the movie Apollo 13 is when a bunch of engineers remap the spaceship’s trajectory with nothing but a pen, paper and a slide rule.
This almost seems impossible in this day and age, when we delegate all of our calculations to a computer. I may be a part of a dying breed of people who can still figure things out without the calculator, but I can’t take credit for this – in my day we just didn’t have calculators; I got my first one after the 8th grade. Trigonometric tables, slide rules, pen, paper or even a chalkboard were just as much a part of my education as computers in today’s schools. There is nothing wrong with using technology but it’s amazing what we can do without it.
This was a long and winded introduction to the old photos of the Severe Local Storm Warning Center (SELS) which was located in Kansas City from 1954 to 1997 (brief history of SELS could be found here). Long before the word meteorologist was associated with associated with clueless jokers on TV, these people were saving lives without 3-D motion maps, scary graphics and “one degree guarantees”. I don’t know how accurate these guys were but given what they had to work with our modern TV meteorologists wouldn’t know where to start. Apparently technology does not a meteorologist make.

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

©Time Inc.Al Fenn

Read the original Life Magazine Article

*post had to be re-edited

  • Burrowowl

    We use the tools we’ve got. I don’t see a big difference between using a trigonometric table and using a calculator; neither way are you doing it in your head.

  • I don’t claim to do trig.functions in my head, although I knew the most common ones, but I met tons of people who can’t figure out how much 10% off is. American retailers have used it for years to fool the consumers.

  • I was a substitute teacher my last semester in college (that was quite enough, thank you), and I was shocked by how much the students relied on calculators for everything. I’m not talking about finding the cosine of a 36 degree angle; I’m talking about dividing 24 by 6. These were 8th graders, mind you…and they were coming through school only eight years after me.

    I enjoy doing math in my head. It keeps the mind agile, and has kept me from getting ripped off innumerable times.

  • teaching crossed my mind many times before, I think I would like that, but then I think about all the union crap that I already deal with at work, angry parents and working in a place with 90% bitter women for low pay and I stop dreaming.

  • The teaching part is fun and interesting, but being a teacher involves more babysitting and politicking than actual instruction. I think teaching adults/college students would be the only way I could stand it.

    And the pay? I roll my eyes when I hear teachers complain about it, because it is one of the only professions in which YOU KNOW UP FRONT EXACTLY HOW MUCH YOU WILL MAKE. And not just your first year–you can access the entire salary table for any public school district.

  • I Travel for Jools

    Even with all the technology, it’s still a matter of garbage in, garbage out.   I had this happen to me with a prescription.  After arguing with the pharmacist over the phone (to no avail) regarding the accuracy of one of my prescription refills, I went to the pharmacy and had her pull the original handwritten prescription from their files which proved they had made an error.  Our whole society is now being run by data entered on and stored in a data base of some sort, but if the entry is not correct, it’s not only useless, but could also be dangerous and if the whole system crashes, well … we can’t even imagine …