Kansas springs often bring the threat of tornadoes. The state averages about 47 tornadoes per year, most of which cause property damage rather than death or injuries. The chance of being in a tornado or even seeing one is remote. Perhaps it's the rarity that makes tales of encounters so fascinating. Those few eyewitnesses to twisters have dramatic stories to share.
The town of Codell in Rooks County has seen plenty of tornado activity through the years. Codell was hit by an F2 tornado May 20, 1916. No one was injured or killed, but there was a great deal of property damage. On the same date in 1917 Codell was struck again, this time with an F3 tornado. This tornado swept to the west of the town, preventing much damage and any injuries. On May 20, 1918, the town was hit again this time by an F4 tornado. Even though the tornado destroyed much of the town, citizens anticipated the anniversary, avoiding injury and death.
Communities in Kiowa County have seen numerous twisters including one June 22, 1928. Will Keller and his family lived southeast of Greensburg. As the family was in the field examining hail damage, Keller spotted an umbrella-shaped cloud in the west that looked suspicious. Read his eyewitness account of the family's harrowing experience with the tornado.
The Udall tornado, May 25, 1955, formed in Oklahoma. In just an hour the tornado traveled 50 miles from the Oklahoma border to wreak havoc on the town of Udall in Cowley County. This tornado was the deadliest in the states history. Considered an F5, the tornado destroyed the entire town, with the exception of one frame building on the far edge of town. 200 people were injured, and 80 killed.
A tornado struck El Dorado on June 10, 1958, killing 13 people and injuring more than 80. The tornado cut a swath 350 yards in southwest El Dorado, traveling southeast instead of northeast. Some called the storm "wrong-way" or "backward."
For 11 days in 1966, cities across the state, including Topeka in Shawnee County, experienced 59 tornadoes. On June 8, 1966, an F5 tornado ripped through Topeka, passing over Burnett’s Mound south of the city. An American Indian legend said the mound protected the city from tornadoes. Seventeen people were killed in the Topeka tornado and countless more injured. The tornado cause more than $104 million in damage. In the days that followed tornadoes continued to touch down across the Kansas and the Midwest.
An F5 tornado hit the city of Andover in Sedgwick County on April 26, 1991. The deadly tornado was on the ground for more than an hour and traveled nearly 46 miles. Nineteen deaths were associated with the Andover tornado. Because of the proliferation of video cameras at the time, it was one of the first tornadoes to be captured on tape, which proved a valuable study for meteorologists.
The Greensburg tornado, May 4, 2007, formed in the northeastern corner of the Texas Panhandle. It moved slowly across Oklahoma, picking up strength. By the time it reached Greensburg it had reached a rating of EF5, and an estimated wind speed of 205 miles per hour within the tornado. Ninety-five percent of Greensburg was destroyed within minutes, with 60 people injured, and 11 killed.
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Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: April 2009
Date Modified: June 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.