Hesston tornado anniversary

Today marks 28 years since the Hesston, KS tornado.

Today marks 28 years since the Hesston, Kansas tornado.

It began at 4:34 p.m., near Pretty Prairie in Reno County. It moved NE, narrowly missing Castleton and Haven. Near Burrton, a 6 year old boy was killed. The tornado continued on toward Hesston, striking the city at 5:37 p.m. with F5 intensity. It caused $25 million in damage in Harvey county alone.

A second tornado touched about a mile north of Hesston at 5:35 p.m. After smashing through the community, the (initial) Hesston tornado tracked NE and parallel for about 2 miles along the new tornado. The two converged and the resultant massive tornado intensified to F5 strength once again. An elderly woman was killed near Goessel. The supercell storm produced 2 more tornadoes as it tracked through Marion, Morris and Wabaunsee County. (see map below)

I was in my second year at KU but was back home at my folks’ house on Spring break. I honestly don’t know why I wasn’t chasing that day. Our “official” KU Chase Team had just organized that Spring.

I was familiar with the town of Hesston. Their boys varsity basketball team beat my high school (Mission Valley) in the 3A Championship in 1985. I was on our high school college bowl team that went to State in 1987, which ironically took place in Hesston. In fact, we ate at the Pizza Hut that was ultimately damaged 3 years later.

I was watching some of the local TV (Topeka) coverage of the tornado and got to thinking…”on this current path, we might be in trouble.” Thankfully the storm’s path shifted just a bit and passed well west of my hometown.

The Hesston tornado was just one of 64 tornadoes that struck Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Iowa during this outbreak.

Matthew Harding put together a 25 year retrospective on the event that can be found here:

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  1. The little boy died from fireplace caving into basement if I remember correctly, it was the first time I heard of someone dying from a storm while they were in the basement…. ?

  2. Yes, unfortunately it does happen. That’s why we suggest taking shelter under the staircase, a work bench or some other heavy table (to lessen the chances of falling debris hitting you). I don’t have the numbers handy with me but I recall a few deaths in Greensburg were similar: they were doing what we were telling them to do but unfortunately it wasn’t enough. So sad!

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