Sunday, March 7, 2010

20th Anniversary of the Hesston Tornado


In March of 1990, the Smith Family took our first-ever trip to Disney World and then to the beach in Tampa.  At the time, in addition to running WeatherData, I was doing the weather for KSNW TV in Wichita.  I would usually take some vacation time between the end of the February ratings period and March 15 which was the earliest date major tornadoes had ever been reported in the State of Kansas.

On the 13th of March, we were getting ready to go out for dinner in our Clearwater Beach hotel.  I was watching my friend Roy Leep do the weather on local TV and he showed a close-up weather satellite photo of Kansas and pointed to a thunderstorm north of Wichita and said a tornado had been reported with it. I had a major sinking feeling.

When we returned from dinner, I couldn't resist turning on CNN (I try not to check the weather when I am on vacation because I want the break) and there was my friend Laurie Roberts of KSNW doing a live shot showing the devastation from Hesston.

The National Weather Service has a page commemorating the Hesston Tornado and the other tornadoes that day.  The Hesston storm and the next tornado in the series (known at the Goessel Tornado) were both rare F-5 intensity tornadoes. Yet, only two people died that day. It was an example of how the tornado watch and warning system saves countless lives.

It also started a three year period when south central Kansas seemed to be the tornado epicenter of the world, including the Andover tornado 13 month later.

UPDATE:  8:22am.  Stan Finger at the The Wichita Eagle has much more on Hesston and tornado safety.  Storm season looks like it will start this week. Now is a good time to brush up on storm safety.

UPDATE: 8:29am. Stan has more at his blog, including photos of the tornado that I have not seen before. Two of the photos are especially useful in seeing the tornado in perspective to its parent thunderstorm.

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