Storm Week: ’64 Tornado Impacts Sheppard Today

Every day, the airmen of Sheppard Air Force Base work and train no matter what the weather holds. Because texoma's weather can be quite violent at times, much of their training is simply about what to do in a worst case scenario. Lieutenant Colonel Vincent Hibdon, Chief of the Installation Excercise Program said, "Here at Sheppard Airforce Base, we take training and excercises very seriously. We have upwards of 20,000 airmen in training here, most of whom have never been to a permanent duty station and may have never been exposed to this type of weather."

The air force base even has its own weather department to help make decisions whenever severe weather is in the area. On days where pilots are training in the air, that information becomes vital. Captain Steffen Haack of the German Air Force said, "They would try to get their best guess. Obviously, it's always a trade-off in between... do we stop flying early because there could be something happening or do we continue to do our mission because there's a slight chance. It's always a trade-off and we try to do that as best as we can, obviously with safety in mind."

If a severe thunderstorm looks like it's heading right toward the base, ground personnel immediately take action. Don Buechler, Dynacore International Contractor for the 80th Flying Training Wing stated, "The basic is... we will chain em' down as we can. Sometimes, we'll stop them on the spot if we have to, depending on how close they are, shut the aircraft down, and get the pilots out. The primary thing is to get the pilots back to safety."

Many of the safety procedures used at Sheppard today are based on past experiences dealing with severe weather. The most notable event for sheppard was the 1964 tornado which carved a path right through the base itself. Newschannel 6 was even able to catch the tornado live on camera. Todd Schroeder, 82nd Training Wing Historian said, "The path was going from the southwest to the northeast. Again, they had about 20 minutes of warning and it hit what they basically called the hospital area. There was the hospital, a lot of the hospital dorms, orderly rooms, there were some warehouses in that area, and it continued onto the western edge of the mechanic or flightline aircraft training area and severely damaged a hanger there."

Given such short notice that a tornado was threatening the base, the airmen were left with few options. Schroeder said, "What they did is they moved people to tornado shelters as best they could. On the flightline, where the hangers were at, in the center of the hangers, they have concrete cinder blocks, office spaces, so they moved a lot of the people in there."

Still, 82nd training wing historian todd schroeder says it could've been much worse. Schroeder added, "One of the fortunate things at that time is it happened on a Friday afternoon. So, most of the people were still at work. A lot of the students were still at school. So, therefore, we could reach the base populace pretty quickly."

As forecasts, tracking methods, and technology have greatly improved over the years, so have the basic safety procedures used at sheppard. Hibdon said, "Every building has a designated shelter in it. It's usually an interior hallway, lowest level possible, and everybody in the building knows where that is. We also have communications set up in those areas so we can communicate throughout the entire base."