Review of the Udall Tornado; Part II

On May 25, 2022, I published Part I of a reexamination of the data surrounding the horrific F-5 tornadoes that struck Blackwell, OK and Udall, KS that evening.  

One hundred two people died in those two small towns. Because they occurred in darkness in the pre-warning era, people literally died in their beds after being told by television weathercasts, "all advisories have been lifted."  I recommend reading Part 1 (click there blue link) before reading on. 

Now, I would like to present the second part of what I have learned about that historic event: 
Truck thrown 1/4-mile out of Udall. Most of the truck was 
stripped away from the steel chassis. 

I enjoy applied meteorological research and, when possible, advancing our science. 

My computer screen while working
on a tornado project

So, to learn more about that horrific night in May, 1955, I examined the following "new" data. 

  • Radar photography from the evening of 5-25-55 from the OSU radar outside of Stillwater (discussed in part 1).
  • Second visit to the Udall, Kansas, city museum where photographs and other documents were reviewed. 
  • Discussion of material available at the OSU Library with librarian. Learned the entire set of radar data was not saved nor were original radar photos. The only data is the photos in the journal. 
  • Review of the Augusta, Kansas, newspaper during the period of interest (special thanks to the Augusta, Kansas, library staff!)
  • Review of El Dorado, Kansas, newspapers and other material at the Butler County [Kansas] historical society. 
  • Review of a master's thesis pertaining to the lightning polarity of the Udall storm. 

My findings:

    Weather Bureau Survey Map
  • The map above is the result of a ground survey done by the Wichita office of the Weather Bureau. It is unlikely an F-5 tornado would carve a path of that nature. It is possible that the "swerve" between Geuda Springs and Oxford may have been one tornado lifting and another tornado in the series touching down; or it might have been one or more satellite tornadoes, but I found no evidence to confirm that hypothesis. There were satellite tornadoes with the F-5 Greensburg, Kansas Tornado of 2007 (see photo below) and it seems most likely that the damage found near the "swerve" was a satellite tornado(s).  
  • The depiction of the tornado past Udall (above and see Part I) is almost certainly incorrect. F-5 tornadoes generally do not make a nearly 90° right turn of the type shown, plus the OSU radar does not provide evidence for such a turn. The more likely cause of the damage along the dashed line was a new tornado touching down east or east northeast of Udall with possible damage from a "rear flank downdraft." 
  • My evidence for a tornado north of Udall is newspaper articles discussing a tornado damaged home later that evening south of Augusta, Kansas, and additional homes damaged on the east side of the city. 
  • My proposed tornado map for May 25, 1955, after this research is below. I have added the source for each tornado. Locations are approximate. The "L" is the location where letters from Udall were found. That, too, would tend to indicate the supercell continued north of Augusta. 
May 25, 1955 Tornado Map
Locations are approximate.
  • The yellow line northeast of Augusta is placed there based on radar data (the supercell was still in progress at least as far north as Augusta) plus a report of large hail at Bazaar, Kansas, still later.  It is unknown whether any tornadoes were produced past Augusta as the area was, and is, very sparsely populated. I took the photo below southwest of Bazaar and it is typical of the terrain northeast of El Dorado. At night, a tornado could go a long way without being seen or striking anything. 
  • There was an unusually high rate of positive polarity lightning near the Udall Tornado based on the lighting data. This was also the case with the 2007 Greensburg, Kansas, Tornado. In the latter case, the polarity flipped about the time the tornadoes from that supercell became violent. Unfortunately, this is not a consistent signal of strong tornadoes. For example, the 2011 Joplin Tornado did not have a high rate of positive polarity. The map below is of what could be called the Greensburg "family" of tornadoes the night of May 4-5, 2007. 
Map of the tornadoes of May 4-5, 2007
The Greensburg (tornado #5) was rated F-5 intensity. Tornadoes #13 (Trousdale) and #14 (Hopewell) were rated F-3, but likely would have been rated higher if more substantial objects had been in their path. Note that they turn left at the end of their lives. Strong tornadoes almost never turn right as they dissipate.

Given the pattern in May 4-5, 2007 was moderate tornadoes, then violent tornadoes, then less intense tornadoes, it is possible the same pattern may have occurred in 1955.

That is what I have found. This information has been sent to the National Weather Service's Storm Prediction Center for its consideration as to whether a revision will be made in the official tornado locations for that night. 

© 2023 Mike Smith Enterprises, LLC

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