Thursday, May 20, 2010

53rd Anniversary of the Ruskin Heights Tornado

Today is the 53rd anniversary of the Ruskin Heights Tornado, a night that will never be forgotten in south Kansas City.  Forty-four were killed by an F-5 tornado that cut a 75+ mile path from Williamsburg, KS to eastern Jackson Co., MO.  It was that tornado, along with seeing the damage it caused the next day, that convinced me to become a meteorologist even though I was only five years old.

A few of the tragic stories of that night are recounted in Warnings. For example, this is the grown-up Bobbi Davis. She was in the car that was lifted and thrown into the Ruskin water tower while trying to escape the tornado. The car came to rest next to the Kansas City Southern Railroad tracks. Her mother, father, and sister were all killed. Bobbi was hospitalized for a month.

Preventing deaths and injuries is the primary goal of the meteorological profession.

Kansas City Star photo by Keith Myers

The Kansas City Star recently ran an article about the Ruskin tornado and my book. The online version is here.

The national civilian tornado warning system was born that night due to the work of Joe Audsley. Had Joe not "bucked the system," it might have been many more years -- and thousands of lives -- before the Weather Bureau started issuing tornado warnings.

I get emotional writing about that evening -- it was the defining moment of my life (it even had a role in meeting my future wife).

Lets hope the Vortex II research project, now in progress, results in even more life-saving knowledge.


  1. I am a survivor of this horrific event. We lived in Hickman Mllls on Oakley. It leveled our neighborhood-Lawndale-Oakley-Drury, killed my 4 month sister Linda Stewart and left my mother and I for dead. I arrived at St. Joseph's Hospital DOA, where a brilliant doctor named Dr. Cooper and an incredible nursing staff worked feverlishly to save my life. I was in a comma for a few days, lost, could only utter one word my unique nickname. I was 4 years old, and friends notified my parents where I was from a TV broadcast. I spent months in the hospital from extreme life threatening injuries. At the 2007 memorial ceremony, many of the old neighborhods kids and I saw each other after many years, and the Lawndale-Oakley-Drury Gang was back together. Many hereos that night. I have met several of the survivors and my story along with theirs paints a very scary monster. Our house imploded as we were on the first step to the basement. This is my earliest childhood memory and I remember it like it happened yesterday. I was found 400 feet away on Lawndale with many,many injuries. This day a quite emotional day for me and my family.

  2. Hank, thank you for sharing your story. You are correct, there were many heroes that evening.

    I was at the 2007 commemoration and it was quite moving. Thanks again!


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