The Wichita Falls Tornado 44th Anniversary

The 44th anniversary of one of Texas’ deadliest natural disasters will occur on April 10, 2023. The city of Wichita Falls was ravaged by a tornado on Tuesday, April 10, 1979, which largely destroyed the southern portion of the city.

I’ll never forget that day. I served as KAUZ-top TV’s meteorologist, a CBS affiliate. I was tasked with covering a tornado that would go down in history for the deaths and devastation it caused. Given the atmospheric conditions, hurricanes may be easily predicted. Warm, humid, and unstable air was brought in by a warm front that lifted north.

Tornado Alley

In the direction of Wichita Falls, a cold front and associated region of low pressure were moving out of the Texas South Plains. Colorado was in a low-pressure region. In a section of what is widely known as Tornado Alley, thunderstorms were bound to occur due to the upper-level weather conditions. We warned viewers that powerful storms with a chance of tornadoes were probable in our prediction for Monday, April 9. We pushed everyone to develop a strategy.

Keep in mind that this was in 1979. We lacked color awareness for such a tiny market as ours. We had the outdated black-and-white system that was once found in an Air Force aircraft. Also, we did not have any of the technical breakthroughs present in 2023, such as weather applications, a station solely dedicated to transmitting weather information, or any other. You can see the latest news about the Texas House Approving A $302.6 Billion State Budget With Tax Cuts.

On this particular day, we received our information from both the Ham Radio network and the National Weather Service. The partly to a mainly cloudy sky and oppressive humidity made for a dreary day. When one went outside, they were met with a deluge of moisture brought on by the aforementioned warm front from the Gulf. It was a contributing factor to the atmosphere’s instability.

The Wichita Falls Tornado 44th Anniversary

On that day, there were two tornadoes visible from the KAUZ viewing area. Tuesday afternoon around 3:40, Vernon was hit by the first. We were forced to interrupt our regular programming to tell our Wilbarger County viewers to seek shelter after spotting the storm on the black-and-white radar. Vernon was obliterated by the tornado. There were eleven fatalities. That supercell entered southwest Oklahoma after crossing the Red River, where it created another tornado that killed another person in Lawton.

The worst was still to come as if everything wasn’t bad enough already. A tornado was observed near the city of Seymour in the second supercell before 5:00, but mercifully no fatalities were reported. The storm then moved into Archer County’s northwest corner. The town of Holliday is located fifteen miles to the southwest of Wichita Falls. A tornado made landfall three miles to the east-northeast of Holliday around 5:50. Must read this news about Texas Senate Approves Public Funds For Private Schools.

The large tornado briefly lifted before making landfall in the area southwest of Ponderosa Estates in Wichita Falls. At the beginning of our newscast at 5:58 p.m., it was at that location. A minute later, a transformer hit and knocked us off the air as we prepared to announce the location and what to do.

Before damaging McNiel Junior High School, the storm severely damaged the city’s football field, Memorial Stadium. It’s a good thing that school wasn’t in session at the time since the number of fatalities and injuries almost certainly would have been substantially greater.

We rushed to the rear door to watch as this huge, black monster of a storm hit the city’s mall, Sikes Senter after it became impossible to continue broadcasting. The tornado first caused destruction in that area, then it crossed Southwest Parkway and continued its carnage in the eastern part of the city.

What Is Tornado’s Maximum Wind Speed

Once the tornado left Wichita Falls, there was a strange quiet. On Wednesday, April 11, 1979, the next day, we first realized the full scope of what this thing had accomplished. The tornado was 1.5 miles wide and traveled eight kilometers through the city. The area of severe damage was between.25 and.50 kilometers wide.

According to KXAN, On the original Fujita scale of tornado strength, the tornado was initially given an F4 rating. When the Enhanced Fujita scale was introduced in February 2007, it was categorized as an EF5. The tornado’s maximum wind speed was estimated to reach between 230 and 250 mph. 45 persons were killed by the tornado. 25 of those were connected to vehicles. 16 of those 25 were found to be the result of people fleeing their houses, it was found. The fact that 11 of the 16 were unaffected by the tornado makes this number even more tragic.

Trace Of Texas tweeted that The enormous 1.5-mile-wide tornado struck Wichita Falls on April 11, 1979. It ended up killing 54 Texans and left a swath of destruction through the city that was eight miles long.

Together with more than 1000 apartments, close to 100 mobile homes, and more than 3,000 residences were all destroyed. Damage totaled $1.93 BILLION in today’s money. The National Weather Service’s ongoing updates, storm spotters in the field, and the timing of the tornado’s impact on the city all helped to prevent more deaths and widespread destruction.

Our station’s return to service took a whole day. The only thing we could do at the time was speaking with those who did hold authority and make an effort to be as consoling as we could. Nothing else needed to be said. We did everything we could to inform folks of the available resources for assistance. Seeing what the storm did to our city and its residents was utterly heartbreaking.


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