(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one in a series of articles about Severe Weather Awareness Week.)
The first test of Great Bend’s severe weather warning system succeeded Monday and the testing will continue today with the state tornado drill at 1:30 p.m.
And the testing won’t only happen during Severe Weather Awareness Week, but throughout the severe weather season, when local weather conditions allow.
Locally, the testing will continue at noon 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.
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: three quarters of a mile
Killed: 80 (75 in Udall)
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, Okla. 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: three quarters of a mile
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.
• April 26, 1991: Wichita/Andover
Counties affected: Sedgwick, Butler.
Length: 46 miles
Average width: half a mile
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
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 windspeeds 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.