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Wichita Tornado History

Wichita Tornado History

Due to the fact that Wichita is located very near the center of the U.S., we’re in a prime location for tornadoes to form. This is because tornadoes occurs when hot and cold air masses meet. As a result, many states in the south-central U.S., that are prone to tornadoes, have been deemed “Tornado Alley”.

Understanding Tornadoes

Tornadoes are measured on the Fujita scale, named for Theodore Fujita of the University of Chicago, who extensively studied tornadoes. Tornadoes are classified by severity, ranging from F0-F5 on the Fujita scale. These rankings are based on wind speeds, which are under 73 miles per hour during an F0 event, or in excess of 261 miles per hour during an F5 tornado. The scale was modified in 2007. Rankings are similar, but may be recorded as EF0-EF5 to indicate use of the “Enhanced” Fujita scale. Each level presents a different potential for tornado damage, ranging from light damage to incredible damage. Learn more about F-scale rankings.

Kansas and Tornadoes

So what does that have to do with us?

Kansas leads the nation in F5 tornadoes, though few tornadoes with this much power blow through Wichita. Despite this, Wichita’s location in the heart of Tornado Alley still leaves room for concern. Homefacts.com labels Wichita as a “Very High” risk level when it comes to tornadoes. Since The beginning of Tornado Records in 1950, Wichita has seen a total of 233, which breaks down to a yearly average of four tornados per year. Of those, many have touched down very briefly, causing little damage. Others, however, have been much more severe. Here’s a look a few of Wichita’s tornadoes through the years.

September 3, 1965

On September 3, 1965 a tornado measuring F3 on the Fujita scale touched down in northeast Wichita. Dozens of houses of Willow Lane were either damaged or destroyed, and property damage totaled about $25 million, according to usa.com. During the tornado, 27 people reported injuries, according to usa.com, and 18 were taken to the hospital for treatment. Those with injuries had been at an ice cream shop in Prairie Village Shopping Center when the storm hit. Fortunately, there were no fatalities. The storm received national attention, with coverage in the Chicago Tribune.

April 26, 1991

April 26, 1991, saw one of the biggest, if not the biggest, tornadoes in Wichita history. The F5 storm tore through Wichita and Andover, leaving a path of destruction in its wake. It began at 4:57 p.m. about a mile-and-a-half south of Clearwater. It began between an F2 and F3 traveling through Haysville continuing northeast to McConnell Air Force Base where it would cause $62 million of damage. It reached F5 Status when it passed into Andover devastating the Golden Spur mobile home park. In total, the tornado traveled 46 miles and caused $300 million in damage. Resulting in 17 fatalities and 225 injuries, this is the deadliest tornado Wichita has experienced. More information is available on The National Weather Service’s Top Ten Kansas Tornadoes.

May 3, 1999

An F4 tornado on May 3, 1999, began four miles north of Wellington and traveled 24 miles north. At Approximately half-a-mile wide, it caused severe damage in Haysville and south Wichita. In total, 150 homes and 27 businesses were damaged. According to a press release published at the time, Tree damage was observed as far north as College Hill, where numerous trees were uprooted but structural damage was minimal. More information is available here.

What to Do During a Tornado

In the event of a tornado, it’s important to know the difference between a watch and a warning.

During a tornado watch, conditions are right for a tornado to form. This does not mean that there is a tornado, but it is possible for one to form, so you should be ready to act if things escalate. A tornado warning means that there is a tornado in your area. When this occurs, you should take cover in the lowermost, innermost part of the building you're in. If you're at home, the basement is the ideal place to take cover, but you'll want to stay away from the windows.

Contrary to popular belief, you should NOT take shelter under a bridge if you are driving. Rather, find a low-lying area like a ditch to lay down in.  

Learn More About Tornado Safety


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