This will discuss local area tornadoes. Much of the data and descriptions comes from Thomas P. Grazulis's SIGNIFICANT TORNADOES, 1880-1989, published in St. Johnsbury Vermont. This page last updated January 16 1997
JANUARY 24 1967....The Orrick, Missouri Tornado... Late January is not thought of as tornado weather in the midwest, but on this day an early afternoon tornado (classified as a F3-PL3-PW2 on the Fujita-Pearson scale) formed in northeastern Jackson County MO and crossed into Ray County MO. The tornado hit the Orrick High School and killed two persons and injured another 18. The temperature at the Downtown Airport hit 67 degrees and would have climbed higher if not for the forming thunderstorms over downtown Kansas City.
MARCH 30 1993....DeSoto, Kansas Tornado.... A strong squall line produced a mini-tornado at or near DeSoto KS and strong winds and heavy rain hit parts of Greater Kansas City,
APRIL 19 1966....Overland Park, Kansas Tornado.... In 1966 Johnson County was quite rural, with large areas of farmland between Overland Park and Lenexa. The area was under a tornado watch when a spotter near 105th and State Line reported a tornado to Civil Defense. The report was very incomplete in that the tornado was actually well to the west, and within minutes touched down on 95th and hit the Katherine Carpenter School. Fortunately the tornado( rated an F3-PL2-PW2 on the Fujita-Pearson scale) was weakening by the time it hit the 95th street area. There were 4 minor injuries and 50 homes were damaged. Later we found out that a volunteer spotter in the Lenexa area saw the storm and tried to call the U.S. Weather Bureau, but gave up when faced with a 15 cent toll call. Your author's unhappiness (with the way the Civil Defense and spotter program had failed) led to a major overhaul of the communications program. Until that time each city and county Civil Defense program had worked independently and pretty much ignored what was going on in the next locale. All of that was changed and changed quickly.
MAY 4 1977....Pleasant Hill, Missouri Tornado.... A very wild weather day in the Greater Kansas City area. The tornado touched down at 11:40 AM approximately 5 miles SE of Drexel MO and moved to the northeast striking Pleasant Hill. Before reaching Pleasant Hill the tornado destroyed or badly damaged 23 rural homes. Upon reaching the town the tornado went on to destroy 25 more homes and 17 trailers. The high school, the elementary school, and 56 homes were heavily damaged. Two persons were killed, one in a trailer and one in a house. The damage was estimated to be $3,400,000. The path length was 29 miles and the average width 500 yards. The storm was rated an F3-PL3-PW3 on the Fujita- Pearson scale.
MAY 4 1977...Odessa to Higginsville Missouri Tornado.... Starting at 1:15 PM the tornado moved northeast from just east of Odessa through Higginsville and on to the vicinity of Waverly MO. Near Odessa the occupant of a trailer was fatally injured. In Higginsville 100 homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged. The path length was 26 miles and the average width 100 yards. The storm was rated an F3-PL3-PW2 on the Fujita-Pearson scale.
MAY 4 1977...The Sedalia Missouri Tornado.... The tornado touched down around 1:45 PM about 9 miles southwest of Sedalia, and went through Sedalia finally lifting 2 miles northeast of town. Approximately 150 homes were destroyed and 300 more damaged. Several schools were damaged and two elementary schools were closed for the remainder of the school year. The path length was 11 miles and the tornado was as wide as 700 yards at times. The storm was rated an F3-PL3-PW4 on the Fujita-Pearson scale.
MAY 4 1977...Jackson, Clay and Ray Counties Missouri Tornado... The tornado touched down at 4:40 PM and moved northnortheast near Atherton to 2 miles northeast of Missouri City to the southern part of Excelsior Springs. Four homes were destroyed near Missouri City and 24 were damaged or destroyed in the Excelsior Springs area. Two dormitories and a home were destroyed at a church campground. The path length was 10 miles with an average width of 350 yards. The storm was rated an F4-PL3-PW3 on the Fujita-Pearson scale. Your author was issuing warnings on this day and this tornado was too close in to the radar antenna to be detected, a problem that was common with the older WSR-57 model. There were only 5 injuries, a miracle considering the strength or the storm.
MAY 4 1977...Ray, Carroll and Chariton Counties Missouri Tornado... The tornado formed north of Richmond around 5:15 PM and moved northeast, then east to north of Rockingham, north of Carrollton and near Brunswick. While missing population centers, this tornado still damaged over 200 homes, barns and outbuildings. The main funnel was on the ground continuously, and witnesses reported as many as five smaller funnels touching down at the same time. The estimated damage was $4,000,000. The path length was 50 miles with an average width of 800 yards. The storm was rated an F4-PL4-PW4 on the Fujita-Pearson scale.
MAY 4 1977...The Douglas and Johnson County Kansas Tornado.... The last significant tornado of the day formed well to the west of the earlier storms, a definite oddity. The tornado touched down in Douglas County and skipped east and northeast from 2 miles northwest of Worden to 2 miles south of Vinland, then 4 miles northwest of Edgerton to 3 miles north of Olathe. There was one injury when a trailer was destroyed. This author was still at work and thought for awhile that Olathe was going to hit head on, but the supercell split into two parts and in the process weakened. A southern Johnson County golfcourse was covered with large hail. The storm was rated an F2-PL3-PW3 on the Fujita-Pearson scale.
MAY 11 1886...The Lathrop School Tornado (Downtown Kansas City).... The Lathrop school tornado was remembered as Kansas City's worst tornado disaster for over 70 years. This famous storm struck the Lathrop Elementary school on the corner of 8th and May.May is a short street on the west side of town, one block east of Broadway. The tornado struck at 11 AM and toppled the bell tower on the three story building. The tower and heavy bell fell through the building killing 15 students. Thirteen other fatalities occured at the nearby Jackson County courthouse, the Smith and Moffitt Spice Mill and an overall factory all in the general vicinity of 2nd and Main. One span of the Hannibal Bridge was lifted and dropped into the Missouri River, cutting off rail traffic for several months. Newspaper accounts of the tornado were critical of the fact that the buildings had been condemned two years prior to the storm.The bell tower had been rebuilt and strengthened but still was no match for the tornado. (Written by Richard Williams of the NWS in 1981.) Subsequently, Thomas Grazulis, doing a national study of major tornadoes in the United States, concluded that this was more likely to be a strong micro-burst.
MAY 13 1883.....The Downtown Tornado....Three tornadoes struck the Kansas City area during the late afternoon. A tornado in the city of Wyandotte (now Kansas City KS) killed 4 persons. The first tornado crossed the Kansas River near Muncie and it appeared that the tornado would hit the downtown area head on. But after a sudden shift the tornado headed towards the point where the two rivers join, and then lifted. On the Missouri side a second tornado swept down near Randolph Point but was short-lived. The third tornado formed formed in the stockyards around 18th and Wyoming and moved towards the eastnortheast. The tornado crossed Broadway at 15th street, passing 14th and Main,11th and Troost, and destroyed the newly constructed German Evangelical Society and a Methodist Chapel at 9th and Lydia.Two persons were killed, one on the Kansas side and one in Missouri.The tornado went through the area around the Federal Building, until 1997 the home of the National Severe Storms Forecast Center.Total storm damage was $250,000 1883 dollars, a considerable sum of money at the time.
MAY 20 1957......The Ruskin Heights Tornado
Since 1950 more than 200 tornadoes have been reported within 50 miles of Kansas City. Most have been weak and short-lived, and caused relatively little damage. But when the atmospheric conditions are right a super tornado can be produced. Such conditions existed on May 20 1957 and the tornado was rated an F4-PL4-PW4 on the Fujita-Pearson scale. Locally it is often called the Ruskin Heights or Hickman Mills tornado, but it struck other parts of the area as well. The U.S. Weather Bureau was using an outmoded radar, left over from WWII. The new long-range raqdar had been designed but had not yet been put in place on top of the Federal Building at 6th and Grand. The old radar was capable of locating very intense thunderstorms and at 4 P.M. the Kansas City office issued a statement that storm clouds were building up to unusual heights to the southwest. Don House, the chief of SELS, had issued a watch box (what was then called a tornado forecast) at 11 AM and upgraded it at 1:30 in the afternoon. After 6 P.M. a suspicious hook shaped echo appeared on the radar screen, and it was known that such a "signature" was a precursor of an intense tornado being formed. In fact, the tornado was already on the ground just to the southwest of Ottawa KS, near the small town of Williamsburg on Highway 50. The tornado destroyed the U-Rest motel and a restaurant. The manager of the motel took his guests to the basement while the owner of the restaurant shepherded his customers away in a station wagon. The Larson family lived at the north edge of Spring Hill KS and their Miami County home was destroyed. Fortunately the family made it to the basement in time. Less fortunate was the Isham Davis family, also of Spring Hill. All four were killed. The tornado cut across southeastern Johnson County and came into Jackson County MO around 7:37 P.M.. As the tornado approached Martin City it struck a barn and outbuildings at the Ozanam Boy's home at 137th and Holmes Road. Twenty-three boys huddled in the basement and escaped injury. Entering Martin City the tornado demolished ten homes along Oak Street between 135th and 136th streets. It then struck the Bartlett and Company grain elevators on the Missouri-Pacific railroad line. Next hit was the Methodist Church at 135th and Holmes, which is now the home of the Martin City Melodrama and Vaudeville Company. There was a birthday party in progress at the chuch, but the more than 40 people there were not injured. The tornado then demolished the Faith Tabernacle leaving only a few pews standing. The pastor and his family had just left the building moments before. Virtually every house and building in Martin City was damaged or destroyed. Twenty-five to thirty homes were leveled. The death toll was 2 with 35 injuries. The popular Jess and Jim's steakhouse was destroyed but amazingly the owner's parakeet was unharmed. The restaurant was not open on Monday night. This fortuitous happenstance saved many lives. The tornado then continued on towards Hickman Mills/Ruskin Heights. Warnings were on radio and television, and anxious residents were scanning the sky to the southwest. Several saw airborne debris and many could hear the loud roar often associated with major tornadoes. There were many square blocks of devestation in Hickman Mills. Huge trees were toppled or snapped off. Along the center of the path all that remained was kindling. The Hickman Mills Bank at 107th and US 71 lost its south wall to the winds and later had to be protected by the Army National Guard of Missouri. The Hickman Mills Furniture Company was also destroyed. Because of the warnings many Ruskin Heights residents were able to take refuge in their basements or with neighbors who had basements. On East 110th street there were least 50 people in one basement, literally lying on top of each other. In this case the roof was blown away but no one was injured. The tornado ripped through the shopping center at 111th and Blue Ridge Boulevard, and then cut through the thickly populated part of Ruskin Heights. There were many homes withut basements and this led to a greater proportion of fatalities. The tornado lifted at 7:53 PM, abut two miles north of Knobtown. The record books shown a continuous 71 mile path, with an average width of 700 yards. The bi-state death toll was 44 with 531 injuries, of which 37 dead and at least 500 injuries were on the Missouri side. Pilots reported debris at an altitude of 30,000 feet! A cancelled check from Hickman Mills was found at Ottumwa IA, 165 miles away. The Weather Bureau office did its job well with equipment that would be laughed at today. Joe Audlsey tells of 27 different bulletins sent out to radio and television. Walt Bodine spent hours broadcasting the warnings. Can it be nearly 40 years ago?
May 30 1879....The Lee's Summit Tornado.....A major outbreak of tornadoes swept across Kansas and western Missouri.In this area an 86 mile long tornado crossed eastern Jackson county. The tornado passed just east of Raymore and Lee's Summit, went through Blue Springs and lifted near Buckner. Four persons were killed in rural Blue Springs. It is likely that the 86 mile track was made up of several tornadoes, but this cannot be substantiated.
July 16 1927.....The South Park Tornado....Four persons died in the South Park neighborhood of northeast Johnson County when a tornado formed near Shawnee and moved northeastward to the Rosedale area. The track parallels the present location of Interstate 35. A second tornado struck the south part of Kansas City MO at 5 PM CST. The second tornado touched down at 82nd and Main and destroyed 200 homes as it swept northeastward to 60th and Paseo. The storm passed over or near ground now occupied by The Landing Shopping Center. There were no fatalities and no injuries with the second tornado. From Richard J. Williams booklet " Kansas City Tornadoes" 1981.
October 6 1941.....The Blue Valley Tornado....This tornado first touched down at 43rd and Jackson, passing through the Van Horn and Fairmont areas and was last seen at Sugar Creek. There were 3 deaths,135 injuries and 300 homes destroyed. This storm was unusual since it occurred in October, normally a quiet month for severe weather. The Municipal airport recorded a high temperature of 81 degrees with more than three inches of rain.