1991-04-26: Andover, Kansas F5 tornado

Discussion in '1990s' started by STurner, Apr 5, 2009.

  1. STurner

    STurner EF2

    Nov 21, 2008
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    I remember this day quite well even though I was only ten-years old. I turned on TWC to watch the local forecast and the weekly planner before catching the bus to school. One of the meteorologists showed a map of the US and there was a high risk of severe weather colored in pink over a good portion of Kansas and Oklahoma. The meteorologist mentioned this was going to be an extremely dangerous day in Kansas and Oklahoma. Then some feeling came over me that something truly horrible was going to happen. My mom and dad were working at St. Joseph hospital in Wichita and my dad got home earlier that day than my mom did. My dads friend and my mom got off of work later and only missed that tornado by 30 minutes. I was at my sisters apartment in Emporia, Kansas for it had a basement and tornadoes were touching down everywhere. The meteorologist on TWC was stating about the Andover tornado and that it was on the turnpike and I got really worried it would hit Emporia for I knew tornadoes could live a long time. Most of my family lives in the Sedgwick and Butler county Kansas and was worried about them. I found out later that they were all safe and I was so glad. In fact with the exception of me and one of my nieces born in Emporia, almost all my family members were born in Sedgwick or Butler county Kansas. It turned out to be a truly scary and it was unfortunate it killed 17 people and 13 came from the mobile home park near US 54. I wondered how many of you may have chased that day and experienced this tornado or any other one. In addition, I believe this was the day of the Red Rock, Oklahoma tornado that may also had been an F5.
  2. Lanny Dean

    Dec 21, 2007
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    The 4-26-91 event was my first "real" chase and my first tornado.
    I remember hearing/seeing the first tornado watch go out that afternoon on local TV and decided to drive out west to see what I could see. Was lucky enough to get the Billings/Red rock tor. without getting myself killed!
    It was an eventful and memorable day for me and one that I won't forget.
    #2 Lanny Dean, Apr 6, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 6, 2009
  3. Damon Scott Hynes

    Jul 21, 2004
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    Two supercells went over Omaha, I was stuck in the basement of my work when the first one went over and hailed the heck out of my car. I managed to head home as the supercell that had previously dropped the Palmyra F3 went over my house in Springfield. There was a good RFB, wall cloud and middling rotation, and for the first time in my chasing life I was keeping an eye on the ground beneath it rather than just on the sky!
  4. Jared Farrer

    Sep 25, 2006
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    Yes this was the same outbreak that spawned the Red Rock Tornado! That was also a nasty tornado. Howie B. ended up on the red rock storm as well as many other chasers, Prentice, Moore etc. In fact I recommend checking out old images of the red rock cell, structure was amazing!

    That was one of the days that was instrumental to me wanting to be a chaser. I remember the day vividly and I was only 8 years old. Yeah forecasts were picking this thing up a week out. And the day of, weather offices were using wording that just struck fear into people. I am not sure of the setup exactly, but I am going to try and find stuff.
  5. Tim Marshall

    Apr 23, 2006
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    Nailed it

    April 26, 1991 - Another top ten chase for me. Carson Eads and I left Dallas that morning and headed to my target of Wellington, KS. We headed west from I-45 and intercepted a supercell near Anthony, KS that produced several tornadoes. We followed the storm through Clearwater and on to Wichita. Unfortunately, we were stopped by downed power lines and debris on the road at I-35. We aborted the chase and began doing damage assessments in south Wichita. We continued the damage survey the next day and then headed south to do a survey of the Red Rock tornado. IMO, Red Rock was just as strong as the Andover tornado.
  6. Tim Vasquez

    Dec 4, 2003
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    Here is the quick & dirty of the setup that day.

    4/26/91 1200 UTC 250 mb.

    4/26/91 1200 UTC 500 mb.

    4/26/91 1200 UTC 700 mb.

    4/26/91 1200 UTC 850 mb.

    4/26/91 1800 UTC surface.

    4/26/91 1800 UTC visible.

    4/26/91 1200 UTC Norman OK.

    4/26/91 1200 UTC Topeka KS.

  7. Mike Smith

    Mike Smith Guest

    One of my most memorable days professionally...

    A couple of points about that day. Tim graciously posted the 18Z satellite image. Note the cluster of thunderstorms centered near MKC. That area of storms was centered between ICT and PNC at roughly 7-8am (from memory). Cowley Co. had a SVR and Kay Co. a TOR warning that morning.

    It cleared, allowing the airmass to recover. SELS issued the first PDS tornado watch I had ever seen.

    The area of cirrus in western Kansas was the leading edge of the PVA. When it hit the dry line, the storms exploded.

    Note that it is a negatively-tilted trough.

    The Centers for Disease Control did a study on the effects of the warnings and found (again from memory) that something like 70 lives were saved by the warnings.
  8. Gabe Garfield

    Dec 18, 2003
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    Thanks for posting those maps, Tim! It's really incredible to see the conditions antecedent to such a tremendous outbreak.

    I remember this day only vaguely, since I was "young whippersnapper" at the time. One thing I do recall very vividly (I lived in Stillwater, OK at the time) is the way the clouds were just screaming to the north, even during the afternoon of the 26th. I remember how hot and humid it was, and yet it was quite windy; even to my young mind, I remember thinking that that was unusual. Stillwater was spared (unlike the year before), and somehow, I was unaware that there was an extremely violent tornado just 30 miles to my northwest (Red Rock tornado).
  9. Paul Knightley

    Feb 6, 2006
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    Oddly, even though I was over 4000 miles away (in SW England), I can remember this. Of course, for us, it was the day after when the news broke, but my Mum came rushing into the garden to alert me that there was a "tornado on the news".
  10. Justin Wiley

    Apr 2, 2009
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    This may not be the exact place to ask, but Tim (or anyone else), how does someone acquire satellite images, maps, and observations of past events, such as the Andover one? I know searching around on the net can help, but it appears you have one dedicated source.

  11. Bobby Prentice

    Apr 22, 2005
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  12. John Lavin

    John Lavin Guest

    Justin, I suggest this site http://w1.spc.woc.noaa.gov/exper/archive/events/index.html although it only goes back to 2000.

    For past nexrad data I would suggest NCDC database achieves here: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/radar/radardata.html these files can be viewed in a pretty easy java based program which you can download for free here: http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/oa/wct/

    And I can't add to much to this storm other than this is probably the first tornado footage I ever saw as a kid. My parents actually have an old video tape produced by KSN TV in Wichita about this day. Most famous one is of course the reporters taking people under the overpass as a small tornado passed them by..
  13. Jay Cazel

    Jay Cazel EF4

    Jul 5, 2004
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    A friend of mine is moving back to Wichita, and he was with me on the day the Andover tornado. While packing up and going thru things he found the pictures we took that day and the day after. The thing I remember most was sitting at 47th street south and Rock Road and watching the tornado go across McConnell AFB.

    At that time my company had the video games and such out that the air base. That tornado hit every building that we had games in but one, most all came out okay but the jukebox at bowling alley. The only thing I found was the dollar bill unit, the rest was gone. The other damage pics are of Boeing and a house in Haysville.















    #13 Jay Cazel, May 18, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: May 18, 2009
  14. Eric Flescher

    Jun 13, 2004
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    I was on the other side of the state that day of Andover

    I sure have missed a lot of good chase days because I was either teaching, working on my doctorate, doing my computer camps and more.

    I was presenting at a science education conference further out West in Kansas that day. It never dawned on me dangerous storms were going to fire further East that day as I was focused on presenting etc. Coming back I heard about it. I always show the Andover tornado video (too bad the guy got fired for showing the video!).

    Meanwhile, a year before, the Hesston tornado took place. I still have the newspaper copy of the photo of this monster. This photo is the one that is burned into my memory with the monster standing tall over the highway with the trucks on the highway.Wish I could have gotten a chance to see it up close.

    But lately I was able to get my closest and best look, photos and video of a tornado. We calculated that the two guys and I were with on the Kirksville, MO tornado that it was 2.5 miles away when we camped out and that it was going at 38 mph and coming straight for us. The account and photos are at

    #14 Eric Flescher, May 19, 2009
    Last edited by a moderator: May 19, 2009
  15. J Holder

    J Holder EF2

    Mar 30, 2005
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    I was 18 and was a CAP member back then. Our state headquarters was on base and was a short block and a half from the dining hall. Our building took some serious structural damage (wasn't found until a couple years after the storm) and we lost several vehicles to flying debris. Debris from the Wichita storm was found all the way up to St. Joseph, Mo. Stuff like check stubs from homes in Andover and as heavy as a box of syringes with military stock numbers on it found in a backyard in Topeka, no doubt from the base clinic at McConnell.

    We (CAP) were down assisting in the cleanup, both on base and in the Golden Spur trailer park. I spent half of Saturday on McConnell AFB, then the rest of the day and Sunday in the Golden Spur. The SP's on base had set up perimeters around the major facilities hit, like the credit union, the base exchange and the like to prevent further loss. They were using their POV's to patrol because I assume they lost so many units in the storm.

    The Golden Spur, as well as the residential homes around it, taught me that while basements were a little safer than standing outside in front of a tornado doing your best impersonation of William Wallis (lifting your kilt at it in anger a la Braveheart), there were better options. The Andover mayor took a lot of heat for how they handled the Golden Spur rescue/recovery/cleanup. Conventional wisdom at the time was they destroyed and burned about as much of the resident's belongings that remained intact afterward than the storm destroyed.
  16. Stephen Locke

    Aug 23, 2008
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    B-1 bombers loaded with nuclear weapons ?

    This video ends with the statement;

    " . . . mission-essential facilities were spared, as was a flight-line packed with over 80 military aircraft, including a pair of B-1 bombers loaded with nuclear weapons."

    Can the nuclear weapon statement be verified? My imagination runs wild with the thought of tornado lofted nuclear weapons being tossed about. I thought tornado forecasting was essentially invented by Air Force meteorologists presumably to deal with a vulnerability such as this.


  17. Mike Smith

    Mike Smith Guest

    I know that McConnell AFB was a B1 bomber base with at least one plane ready to go at all times. There was also at least one KC135 tanker ready to go at all times in 1991. Presumably, the 'ready' B1s had nuclear weapons on board but the AF will never confirm or deny that.
  18. Sam Barricklow

    Feb 1, 2006
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  19. I doubt nukes would be loaded on planes in Kansas, unless the government has a secret plan for whenever they get sick of Canada or something. Plus, I'm pretty sure they stopped loading planes with nukes in the fifties, when long-range missles could deliver such payloads with a much higher probability. Even then, nukes have an internal detonation device, IIRC, so if they were tossed around in this kind of eventuality all they'd do was go plop on the ground and that's it.

    Nevertheless, if these guys got hit dead-on, Andover would probably be the most destructive tornado in terms of money lost to damage for a few lifetimes.
  20. N Parker

    N Parker Guest

    Sorry for the off topic, but look up operation "Chrome Dome". And that was just the op we knew about. There were plenty more. The bombers were apart of our nuclear "triad" and when the 30 min warning came in, the crews had just enough time to get in the birds and get airborne.

    But anyway, I was too young at the time this tornado occured, but I have watched just about every video there is on it and can credit it for some of the fasination I hold for tornados.
  21. Mike Smith

    Mike Smith Guest

    Having been invited to a VIP tour of McConnell (IAB) when the B-1B's arrived and having a senior Pentagon official describe their mission, I am very confident that there were bombers loaded with bombs. What is point of having bombers if they don't carry bombs? I doubt they were at the end of the runway just wasting fuel.

    They wanted a bomber base in the interior of the U.S. so the President would have maximum decision time from when a sub-based missile was launched in the Gulf as well as a Soviet missile coming over the north pole. The planes with bombs can be recalled, a launched ICBM cannot. So, by having loaded bombers ready to go at IAB, the President would have had more time to make a response to an actual or perceived attack.

    With regard to your second point (I added the bold type), a nuclear blast cannot occur by dropping the bomb or having it flung about.

    Now, could radioactive material have been spread had one of the bombs cracked open? Yes, and you are correct that would have been one expensive tornado!
  22. jpersonette

    jpersonette Guest

    I attended a conference for educators at which the guy who worked at Witchita NWS in 1991 spoke. He talked about "storage for nuclear bombs" if I remember right (it was a long time ago, though). According to him the only time it was rated at F5 was when it hit the trailer park. Maybe one of the flaws in the old system, I don't know.
    #22 jpersonette, Apr 8, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 8, 2010
  23. PFranklin

    PFranklin Guest

    Since today is the 19th anniversary I thought I would add a couple of thoughts. I am not a true chaser, but as some one who experienced that day I thought I might share.

    My family lived (lives) in northwest Haysville, and their street was hit hard by the tornado. I was living in Wichita at the time, but had been in Topeka on business. I recall as I drove south on the Turnpike from Topeka that afternoon severe thunderstorm warnings were going up all over the place. I was just driving into east Wichita when the tornado entered Haysville. I cannot describe the horror I felt listening to local radio mobile units detailing the location of the tornado and knowing my family was in the middle of it. I somehow made my way through back roads into Haysville. I walked right past an overwhelmed reserve police officer standing at a blockade, informing him my house was down there and I WAS entering. It was the first time I had seen tornado debris up close and very personally. My family's home was spared for the most part with broken windows, a hole in the roof, and broken garage door. We learned later from the structural engineer that the edge of the garage had lifted and been set back down. Six of the seven houses to their west were destroyed. I will always remember walking among the rubble asking if every one was accounted for and if any one needed help. The Mennonite rescue group appeared as if out of nowhere; and the National Guard was not too far behind.

    Of course I had no idea until I returned to my apartment in Wichita late that night how badly Andover had been hit. I still remember how everything else seemed so normal. That day gave me new respect for the power of nature.
  24. Heath Powell

    Heath Powell Lurker

    Mar 7, 2010
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  25. Lanny Dean

    Dec 21, 2007
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    April 26, 1991....I was only 17 years old at the time and had deep passion for anything and everything weather related. I was still in High School kinda, and although I was very athletic, playing basketball, soccer and other sports, I of course thought that I was going to b the next Michael Jordan but the weather had other ideas. Little did I know that this day would be the introduction for me into the weather world and the world of storm chasing. I can't recall of knowing or even seeing any other chasers before this day...I simply did not know they exsisted. How naive of me right? :)
    I remember waking up the morning of the 26th with hopes of that I had actually done well during an interview with the manager of the local Kentucky Fried Chicken the evening before. I was well prepaired....I wore tan slacks with my "penny loafers" and a very nice (allbeit LOUD) hawaiian button up shirt. Looking back, I suspect I looked like a 17 year old tourists but at the time The word cool was Lanny Dean and I knew it. I might mention that my mornings actually started sometime around noon or even 2pm as I suspect most lazy teenagers who knew everything about everything would if given the chance. If I recall correctly I think it was well after 2pm or even closer to 3pm.
    Just prior to this event I had been dating a young girl by the name of Holly Chapman, actually living with her and her family, Dan, Barb, Angel and Ginger Chapman. I was attending a private Christian school in Springfield Missouri where Holly also went to school. Fact of the matter is that I started going there due in part to dating her...at the time she was my world and as a young teenager, I went where she was. In todays world I guess you could say that she was my first love. Of course, we were young and mistakes happen for many different reasons most of which were simply becuase of our age and becuase of my living situation. Close to the end of the school year Holly and I broke up, as you can imagine this was pretty tough on me so in all of my wisdom I decided that I needed to be away from Holly and so I quit school and moved back in with my Mom and Dad in Oklahoma. On April 17 I became an Oklahoman again with the thought that I could just forget Holly exsisted with my decision.
    One stipulation that my Mom threw out on the table when I moved back in with them was that I either had to go to school or get a job. My thought process at the time was that a job would be much better than going back to school as I knew everything there was to know about everything anyways so why waste my time any longer sitting in boring classrooms. I just knew that if I got a job I could get rich off of min. wage and could really focus my attention on the weather after I got rich.
    After taking a shower and laying around for a bit contiplating how I was going to get rich, there I was.... sitting at the kitchen table pondering a phone call to the local Kentucky Fried Chicken while eating a bowl of cheap Capton Crunch. I wanted to see how my interview went when I heard one of the local TV stations mention the possibility of very severe weather later in the day. Of course this peaked my interest much more than a phone call would and so I decided to
    "tune into" what the guy on TV was saying. The "guy" kept mentioning that there was a real possibility of severe weather and tornadoes that day and that people should go over their saftey plans. It was at this point that I knew what my day was going to consist of....I was going to go see a tornado simple as that.
    My Mom and Dad lived close to Wesport, Oklahoma right on Lake Keystone at the time in a small 2 bedroom mobile home. We actually lived just to the east of Westport about 2 1/4 miles in a nice little mobile home park. It was a very clean park and certainly not what you would think of when you think about living in a trailer park. Mom and Dad were renting the mobile home while waiting on the house they were buying to get finished being remodeled. I decided to go fill up my car with gas and as I went out the front door and stepped out onto our wooden deck I remember the air feeling very "sticky". It was one humid SOB outside! I made my way dow to the station and filled up my car with gas and then headed back to the house to see what else was going on with the weather and to attempt to call KFC to check on the status of their need for a full time cook during the day shift. Not long after I got home I heard the news that "they" had issued a tornado watch until late that evening and out the door I went. I first drove south down HWY 48 to HWY 51 and then drove west not really knowing what to do or what I would see or even what to expect. I pretty much drove to what I thought would be the center of the tornado watch box or where I invisioned the center would be. After driving and stopping and driving and stopping and driving some more, I made my way to Stillwater and close to Interstate 35 when I finally saw it.....a big monsterous storm cell to the north and west of my location. I could not see any tornado or even any real structure in the low levels but I knew this was a beast and one hell of a storm. It looked like it was moving to the east so I decided to back track a little. I ened up going north on HWY 77 and then stopped at the intersection of HWY 77 and some dirt road that did not have a name. It was here that I saw my first "storm chaser"...a small guy with dark hair and glasses. He was pointing north at the direction of the storm when I saw it......it was almost white in color and had a true funnel shape to it. I could not tell at that time if it was touching the ground or not and to me I did not think it was but the "storm chaser" kept screaming "tornado, tornado, tornado on the ground"
    I was able to get the big VHS camcoder that I had "borrowed" from Mom and Dads closet and started to film the tornado when all of a sudden the "storm chaser" drives off screaming that it was headed right for us. My vantage point was south east of the tornado and to me it looked like the tornado was moving away from me not toward me. so I decided to stay and shoot some more video. The tornado made some drastic color changes and went from a white color to a darker grey white and then to a almost blue grey color. During one of the color changes I started feeling winds hit me in the back and made it difficult to film steady. This wind kept getting stronger and stronger and which lead me to feel a little unsafe at my position and caused me to move back to the east. I drove to the intersection of HWY 15 and whatever dirt road I was on and then went south on highway 177. I finally stopped just north of some lake and got out to film the tornado again. As soon as I got out of the car the wind was so strong it made it hard to close my car door. The tornado had changed size and color and was now a big giant black tornado that was very wide.At the time I did not know what the term wedge tornado was or meant but in looking back this was a giant wedge tornado!
    The tornado was loud and was making a loud roaring, hissing type sound. There were clouds pulling into it from my direction that were getting wrapped up and sucked into the top part of the tornado I remember thinking that it was going to cross the HWY not far from where I was just located at and I actually remember thinking that it would be cool to be back up there. At that point I remember seeing black stuff flying around the outer edge close to the tornado and I remember thinking that "those birds are very close".....I realized that I was not seeing birds....it was trees and all sorts of debris floating around the base of the tornado.
    Not long after this I couldn't make out the tornado very clearly anymore and so I basically drove south to 412 and drove home. I had not been home long when discussing my daily duties with my Mom and Dad were cut short with another tornado warning and this time it looked to be heading straight for us! Anybody who chases knows what can happen to a mobile home during a high wind evebt much less a tornado....they don't stand a chance but back then telling people to leave their mobile home to go out into the weather and find shelter just didn't seem right. We were no exception.....
    I remember our power flickering off and on....we were all glued into the TV set watching Travis Myers on one channel and Jim Giles on the other telling people "near Westport to take shelter". Our power went out and it went completely black.....
    As we sat in the darkness, my Mom yelled at me to get closer to her and Dad and we grouped as close together as we could in the middle of the living room floor. The first thing we heard was the wind pick up....it started blowing really hard as we could hear the wind blowing through the leaves of the trees.....knowing what I know now, I suspect we were just on the outside and to the south of the main core becuase we did not receive any hail and very little rain. Anybody who knows weather however knows that this is not a good location and we were in a very dangeorus place.
    As the wind roared louder we just sat there....a very stuid decision that could have very well cost us out lives.
    As it turned out the roar that we heard was also coming from the tornado that hit Westport just a little over 2 miles away. After the wind died down Dad and I went outside to survey the damage.....we had tree limbs down and insulation all over our yard, boards from God only knew where, one broken window on my Mom and Dads car from a big tree limb that had crashed through it and our skirting around the mobile home was nowhere to be found. At this point we decided to call it a night and we all went to bed not long after becuase we no doubt had a long days cleanup ahead of us in the morning.....
    After going to bed I remember laying awake remembering the days event and being afraid that we might have more severe weather and that without TV we wouldn't have any warning of it coming....I did not sleep well....I don't think any of us did.
    Daylight showed the true damage of the event and as we cleaned up our yard we were informed by a friend that Westport had been hit really bad so we decided to drive over and take a look.
    It was was the first time I had seen damage up close and it really hit home especially for some of the folks that lived up on the "ridge" in Westport....their houses were totally gone with only some of the inside walls remaining....it was so sureal and an event that I will never forget.
    Not long after I decided to go back to school and moved back to Missouri. I graduated that year and went on to college with the hopes of doing something in the weather. I ended up getting my degree in Electronic Telecommunications and later went to work full time in the media reporting and shooting the weather. I was the first in house "storm chaser" in the state of Kansas to film and report a tornado live on air in June of 2005. I was awarded Storm Chaser of the year award through Ipixcel in 2005 and 2007 and was Emmy nominated for my weather reporting in 2008. I have filmed 297 tornadoes in the last 20 years, took part in a docudrama show called Tornado Hunters which aired on TruTV and participated in 4 Storm Stories for The Weather Channel and I feel I owe it all to April 26, 1991 and my decision to chase rather than to check in with the folks over at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

    Currently I own and run Extreme Chase Tours which is a storm chasing tour business along with my business partner, Jeff Smith and Chad Berryhill. We have got a wonderful team of people including Mr. Jim Sellars, Jill Gilardi, Brian Depriest, JD, Steward and a few others. These people are my friends and family. Speaking of family, I am happliy married to my wife Laura and share 2 children with her, Brandon and Rylie who are twins. We also have my three children from my previous marrage as well as her two children from a previous marrage.
    I have often said that after I see 300 tornadoes I will stop chasing....I just may do that! Please forgive my grammer as it is late/early


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