Tornadoes in Topeka, Andover, Udall, Greensburg will not be forgotten


Last month’s Andover tornado brought back memories of one of the deadliest tornadoes in Kansas history, which tore through this community 31 years and three days earlier.

No one died in the April 29 EF-3 tornado in Andover, a Wichita suburb of about 15,000 people. But 17 people were killed, 13 in Andover and four in Wichita, by an EF-5 tornado that hit those towns on April 26, 1991.

This latest tornado is part of the following list of seven killer Kansas tornadoes that will not be forgotten.

1966 Topeka Tornado (16 killed)

On June 8, 1966, a monstrous EF-5 tornado swept across the Burnett’s Mound of southwestern Topeka and carved a diagonal path of destruction running northeast through the city.

Sixteen people were killed by the twister. It landed in southwest Shawnee County and remained on the ground for 22 miles, reaching up to half a mile in width. The tornado injured over 500 people and caused damage totaling over $200 million in 1966 dollars, making it the costliest tornado in United States history at the time.

WIBW-TV presenter Bill Kurtis was credited with saving many lives when he warned viewers, “For God’s sake take shelter.” Kurtis became known nationally.

A tornado spawned by the same storm system killed one person later that evening in Leavenworth County.

1955 Udall Tornado (80 kills)

It was part of the devastation caused by the deadliest tornado on record in Kansas, which hit Udall on May 25, 1955.

On May 25, 1955, the deadliest tornado in Kansas history ripped through Udall, about 30 miles southeast of Wichita. It killed 80 people, including 75 in Udall, and injured 270.

The EF-5 twister touched down in northern Oklahoma and entered Udall from the southwest around 10:35 p.m. It moved northeast through the heart of the city.

Many residents were in bed when the tornado hit, destroying 192 buildings and leaving only one building habitable in Udall, according to a weather service website.

At the time, the weather service did not have an effective system for identifying potential tornadoes and relaying information about them to the public.

The tornado was on the ground for 30 miles and had an average width of three-quarters of a mile. Damage was estimated at $2.225 million in 1955 dollars.

2007 Greensburg Tornado

This photo shows the damage caused by the tornado that hit Greensburg in south-central Kansas on May 4, 2007.

On May 4, 2007, an EF-5 tornado killed 11 people, injured 63, and caused damage estimated at $250 million in 2007 dollars while leveling the town of Greensburg in south-central Kansas. Some people who had taken refuge in the basements were among those killed.

The weather service reported that 961 homes and businesses were destroyed, 216 suffered major damage and 307 suffered minor damage.

“This monstrous vortex made history as the first tornado to be rated EF-5 on the new and improved Fujita scale with estimated wind speeds of 205 mph,” the weather service’s Topeka office website said.

The powerful tornado remained on the ground for 26 miles and had a maximum width of one and three-quarters mile.

1991 Andover-Wichita Tornado (17 kills)

On April 26, 1991, an EF-5 tornado killed four people in Wichita and 13 others in Andover, all of whom died at Golden Spur Mobile Home Park.

The tornado was on the ground for 46 miles and had an average width of half a mile, the weather service said. It caused damage estimated at $300 million in 1991 dollars, including $62 million to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita.

The tornado had EF-3 intensity as it passed through the Air Force base, where it narrowly missed 10 B-1 bombers, each valued at $280 million.

The tornado intensified as it entered Andover. Officials lamented that many residents did not take the threat seriously at Golden Spur Mobile Home Park, where the storm shelter had room for 100 more people, but many residents never left their home.

Tornado that killed Dorothy Gale (death toll uncertain)

The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) and Dorothy (Judy Garland) speak with the Tin Man (Jack Haley) during a scene from the 1939 film "The Wizard of Oz," which became permanently associated with Kansas.

On May 30, 1879, two tornadoes striking within minutes of each other devastated the town of Irving in Marshall County in northeastern Kansas.

Published reports disagree on the number of people killed, although most say it was at least 18. Among those who died was a girl named “Dorothy Gale”.

L. Frank Baum named the title character Dorothy in his 1900 book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, Lee Sandlin wrote in his 2013 book Storm Kings.

Baum’s book was made into a popular 1939 film, which shows a Kansas tornado taking Dorothy, her home, and her dog, Toto, to the magical land of Oz.

The Oz theme has since become inextricably linked to Kansas. The film also helped cement Sunflower State’s reputation as a tornado-infested place.

1978 Lake Pomona tornado (16 killed)

Sixteen people died in 1978 when a small tornado struck this showboat, the Whippoorwill, on Lake Pomona south of Topeka.

On June 17, 1978, 16 people died when a small tornado struck a 65-foot paddle wheel replica of an old-fashioned riverboat called the Whippoorwill on Lake Pomona, about 35 miles south of Topeka. .

The guests had planned to have dinner and watch a musical performance, but crew members about 15 minutes into the cruise saw a small tornado dancing across the water. The captain turned the boat to head for the shore, but couldn’t get her out of the way. The tornado struck the Whippoorwill, capsizing it about 100 yards offshore in water about 25 feet deep.

Fourteen guests and one crew member died, all drowned, in what remains the deadliest water disaster in Kansas history. One of those killed was a pregnant woman, whose 8-month-old unborn fetus was believed to be the 16th death.

1990 Hesston Tornado (one fatality)

The photo shows the funnel of the 1990 tornado that devastated Hesston in south-central Kansas.

On March 13, 1990, a massive tornado killed one person and injured more than 60 people while destroying more than 225 homes and 21 businesses in Hesston, Reno County, south-central Kansas.

The twister killed one person in Burrton before entering Hesston, where it reached EF-5 intensity while sweeping several buildings from their foundations.

The tornado was on the ground for 48 miles and had an average width of three quarters of a mile. Damage was estimated at $25 million in 1990 dollars.

The Hesston tornado was weakening when a second EF-5 tornado developed nearby and ingested it, according to the weather service. The second tornado killed one person, in Goessel in Marion County.

Tim Hrenchir can be reached at [email protected] or 785-213-5934.

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