The Topeka Tornado of 1966
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The Topeka Tornado of 1966 was the first in U.S. history to exceed $100 million in damage, with a Fujita Scale rating of F5. It had a ground path of 22 miles through the city, killing 16 people, injuring over 500, destroying 820 homes and damaging 3000.
While living in Kansas, I heard a myth that Topeka was protected against tornadoes by Burnett's Mound, a hill southwest of town. There are many similar myths and the Tornado Project is collecting and publishing them at Tornado Myths In the case of Topeka, the 1966 tornado traveled directly over Burnett's Mound, destroying the myth just before it devastated Topeka.
A radio announcer for Alf Landon's WREN-AM was in a vehicle on top of the mound looking for tornadoes. His vehicle was thrown down Burnett's Mound, but amazingly he survived with only minor cuts and bruises (Kiddies, don't try this at home). I later discussed his experience with him.
When the tornado hit, I was standing at one of the highest points in Lawrence, Kansas at the (former) transmitter site of my student job at KANU-FM. There was a huge supercell to my NW with an enormous, black rainfree base to my WNW. While I was standing there watching the storm, a lightning bolt flashed from the supercell and struck the 600' tower 6-10 feet away from me, giving me quite a jolt. Thank goodness for the excellent grounding system!
Through binoculars, I saw a "stovepipe" tornado funnel descend from the base of the storm, and move towards my right. Educational note: Tornados do *NOT* normally descend from a cloud. The actual tornadic circulation begins at the ground. Thus a tornado may exist and may be causing a lot of damage even though there is no funnel visible. The funnel is a result of water condensation when the air in the tornado reaches the right combination of pressure and humidity, which usually occurs first at the base of the cloud.
The tornado was large enough that it was impressive from our location approximately 20 miles from the storm. After a few minutes the funnel was obscured by rain. A Topeka Civil Defense spotter was also at our site and as soon as we saw the funnel, he radioed in a report on the 2 meter spotter network. This may have been the first warning on the tornado.
All Images on this page Copyright Dan Moore, 1966,1996