1955-05-25 Udall, KS Tornado

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Feb 14, 2005
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Charleston, South Carolina
The tornado that demolished Udall in 1955 must have been one of the spookiest storms of all times. Completely unprepared, this very small Kansas town was practically wiped off the map in a nighttime tornado that came without warning. It still ranks as the worst natural disaster in Kansas history. For a complete description of the event, refer to Mike Smith's book Warnings which has a whole chapter devoted to it. Kansans still speak of this event in hushed tones, as if it were a gruesome midnight murder or something, which it practically was.
 
Sep 8, 2014
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Norman, OK
I find these historic events to be very interesting. This is a worst case scenario as the tornado sounds like it was rain-wrapped and, as you mentioned, at night. There's not much the weather service could have done with their extremely primitive radar. Just unfortunate.
 
Feb 22, 2015
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Norman, OK
Looking at some of the damage pictures, it is likely that this was one of the most violent tornadoes of at least the 1950s. It was almost as complete of a wipeout as you can get. This storm produced some of the most severe vehicle mangling I've ever seen, highlighted by this photo...



This tornado also had a very high casualty rate, with ~1/2 of the population being killed or injured, which can be an indicator of extreme intensity, along with obviously the time it struck. I consider this case somewhat analogous to Greensburg, with a nighttime, northward-moving, intense, cyclic supercell (which also produced the Blackwell F5). The sketches of the radar echoes at the time are actually somewhat similar to the Greensburg/Trousdale storm.



 
Feb 14, 2005
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Charleston, South Carolina
Very observant of you to recognize the similarity in radar signatures between Udall and Greesnburg. This was actually a point that Mike Smith made in his book. Notice the Udall tracings were made from the Tinker AFB radar, as it likely had a better look than Wichita at the time. The Wichita radar was affected by attenuation, as there were 2 intervening storms between the Wichita radar site and Udall. Obviously, the watch/warning system was far advanced for the Greensburg storm.
 
Mar 3, 2012
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In researching an article I wrote on the 4/9/47 Glazier - Higgins - Woodward event, I came across something very interesting pertaining to this event. There was a woman named Agnes Hutchinson who was impacted by the Woodward tornado, and her husband and youngest son were killed. She survived but she lived in fear for quite some time, until she eventually decided to move. Guess where she moved to? Udall, Kansas. And sure enough, she was directly affected by that tornado as well. It completely destroyed her home and her possessions, but fortunately no one was killed. She's certainly not the only person to have ever been struck by two different tornadoes, but I think it's pretty extraordinary to have been impacted by two of the deadliest, most violent tornadoes ever recorded in the United States, and for it to happen all within eight years!

If anyone's interested, here is the article. And here's a snippet from the end of Agnes' story:

The material loss was staggering, but the emotional toll was hard to appreciate for those who had not lived through it. Agnes Hutchinson fell deeply into shock after her husband and youngest son were killed. She did not cry at the funeral, nor did she cry at all for some time. She kept herself constantly busy, cobbling together a small shack with whatever building material could be salvaged from the wreckage of the previous home, the home her husband had built for his family with his own hands. She, like so many in Woodward, could not sleep without keeping one eye focused on the window, fearful the swirling winds would return and determined to be ready. Agnes could never forget, but she slowly healed, and within a few years she’d remarried and had four more children. She and her family made their new home in Udall, Kansas. At 10:35 p.m. on May 25, 1955, the roaring winds did return. One of the most violent tornadoes in history obliterated much of the small town, killing 80 people. Agnes again lost her home and much of her property, but her family was safe. After the immeasurable loss she suffered on that early spring night in Woodward, that was all that mattered.
I think Udall overshadows just how devastating the Blackwell, OK tornado was as well. Here are a few photos from each event.

Udall:







Blackwell: