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Severe weather history costly to Kansas

Residents continue to learn from our dangerous, deadly past

POSTED March 9, 2011 4:56 p.m.

This year, severe weather testing had to be postponed — due to severe weather.
It’s not the first time.
But this year, the severe weather was of the winter variety, not spring, so you just don’t know what to expect in the Great Plains.
That’s part of the reason for Severe Weather Awareness Week, March 7 through March 11, to get people used to being ready to respond to weather threats.
So today, at 1:30 p.m., the statewide siren tests are planned again, unless, of course, real weather threatens.
Locally, the testing will continue on Tuesdays, according to Great Bend Police Department Capt. Bob Robinson.
He noted that again this year, when weather conditions are clear, the city will test outdoor sirens at noon on Tuesdays.
That will begin next Tuesday and continue until next fall.
Robinson also remarked that people need to remember that the sirens, while they are often audible inside structures, are intended for outdoors alerts, so that people who are outside will know that they need to seek shelter.
State officials are working this week to remind the public about the need to be alert during storm season and one way has been by documenting historic storms.
Some of the storms in the state’s past include:
• May 25, 1955: Udall Tornado — Deadliest in Kansas history.
Counties affected: Kay (Oklahoma), Sumner, Cowley.
Length: 30 miles
Average width: ¾ mile
Killed: 80 (75 in Udall)
Injured 270
Damage: $2.225 million
The terrifying F5 twister was actually the second of two F5 tornadoes that tore through North-Central Oklahoma and South-Central Kansas that night; forming just as the equally infamous Blackwell, Oklahoma F5 tornado was dissipating very close to South Haven. The Udall Tornado roared into the southwest edge of town around 10:35 p.m., and moved northeast through the heart of town where it caused almost complete devastation. In all, 192 buildings were destroyed of which 170 were homes. Only one building was habitable.
The tornado struck a parked freight train at nearly a 90-degree angle.
The 75 fatalities and 270 injuries accounted for about 70 percent of the Udall population.
• June 8, 1966: Topeka.
Counties affected: Shawnee.
Length: 22 miles
Average width: ¾ mile
Killed: 16
Injured: 406
Damage: $100 million
Touching down in southwest Shawnee County just south southeast of Dover at 7 p.m., the twister quickly intensified as it moved northeast directly over Burnett’s Mound.
Downtown Topeka took a direct hit with a large part of the state capital devastated.
Around 820  homes were leveled with another 3,000 badly damaged. Most of the damage occurred in an eight-mile long, four-block wide path right through the heart of the city.
Included in these hardest hit areas was Washburn University, which sustained around $10 million damage.
The capitol building was nearly hit with paint peeled from the dome.
At the time, it was the costliest natural disaster in Kansas history.
• March 13, 1990
Counties affected: Reno, Harvey, McPherson.
Length: 48 miles
Average Width: ¾ mile
Killed: 1
Injured: 60
Damage: $25 million (Harvey County)
What became known as the “Hesston Tornado” actually had its inception at 4:34 p.m., about a mile or two northeast of Pretty Prairie in extreme south-central Reno County. It quickly attained a width of around 350 yards, causing F1-F2 damage as it churned northeast between Castleton and Cheney Lake. The tornado widened dramatically to nearly ¾ mile as it approached Haven, inflicting F4 damage to many homes that were completely demolished. Nearly constant F3 damage occurred from Haven to Burrton.
Northeast of the Little Arkansas River, the tornado narrowed to about 300 yards, however the worst damage would occur shortly thereafter as the vicious vortex roared into Hesston. Many homes and businesses were destroyed with several swept from their foundations. Sections of the damage track in Hesston achieved F5 intensity.
• March 13, 1990
Counties affected: Harvey, McPherson, Marion.
Length: 22 miles
Average width: ¾ mile
Killed: 1
Injured: none
Damage not reported
The beginning of this second F5 tornado was dramatic to the say least.
It formed at 5:35 p.m., one mile north of Hesston just south of the Harvey/McPherson County line as the Hesston tornado was beginning to weaken.
Over the span of only a few miles, this twister quickly intensified as it traveled nearly parallel to the weakening “Hesston” tornado, ingesting its predecessor as it entered the rope stage. The result was a vicious vortex that went on a rampage as it crossed the McPherson County/Marion County line one mile southwest of Goessel.
It was here that the lone fatality occurred; an elderly woman who had lived in an army barracks that had been converted into a home (but with no basement). The huge funnel continued its northeast track over southwest Marion County, passing just southeast of Hillsboro. The tornado dissipated near Marion Lake.
• April 26, 1991: Wichita/Andover
Counties affected: Sedgwick, Butler.
Length: 46 miles
Average width: ½ mile
Killed: 17
Injured: 225
Damage: $300 million ($62 Million to McConnell Air Force Base).
Beginning at 4:57 p.m. about 1.5 miles south of Clearwater, the vicious twister fluctuated between F2 and F3 intensity as it tore through Haysville.
It firmly established F3 intensity as it roared through the east side of Haysville.
The twister struck McConnell Air Force Base as an F3 vortex, destroying the base school, hospital, and part of the housing. The tornado narrowly missed a line-up of around 10 B1 bombers, each worth around $280 million. The base sustained around $62 million damage.
As the twister vacated McConnell, it achieved F4 intensity. The twister reached F5 intensity at 6:35 p.m. as it crossed the Sedgwick/Butler County line.
It roared into Andover, drawing a bead on the Golden Spur mobile home park which was devastated. It was at the mobile home park where 13 of the 17 fatalities occurred.
The tornado continued onto El Dorado by which time it had weakened to F2-F3 intensity. The tornado dissipated after crossing El Dorado Lake.
• May 4, 2007: Greensburg
Counties affected: Comanche and Kiowa.
Length: 26 miles
Maximum width: 1¾ miles
Killed: 11
Injured: 63
Damage: $250 million
This terrifying tornado started in Comanche County and entered Kiowa County at 9:03 p.m.
It curved north, then northwest, then made a complete loop two miles northwest of Greensburg as it dissipated.
This tornado, which drew, and continues to draw, national attention, leveled or destroyed 95 percent of Greensburg. So powerful was the twister that, despite adequate warning, 11 people were killed, some of whom were in basements.
In all, 961 homes and businesses were destroyed, 216 sustained major damage and 307 received minor damage. Several oil storage tanks were destroyed.
Some debris hadn’t been cleaned up as late as July 26 and Highway 54, which runs through town, was closed for a month.
This monstrous vortex went down in history as the first tornado to be rated EF5 on the new Enhanced Fujita Scale with wind speeds that were estimated at 205 mph.
It was also the first magnitude F5/EF5 tornado to occur since the Moore, Okla. F5 Tornado of May 3, 1999; an incredible twister that contained speeds of around 315 mph.

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