The most deadly tornado to ever strike within the borders of the state of Oklahoma occurred on Wednesday, April 9, 1947 in the city of Woodward. The Woodward tornadic storm began in the Texas Panhandle during the afternoon of April 9, 1947, and produced at least six tornadoes along a 220 mile path that stretched from White Deer, TX (northeast of Amarillo) to St. Leo, KS (west of Wichita).
The tornado that would strike Woodward began near Canadian, TX. Moving northeast, it continued on the ground continuously for about 100 miles, ending in Woods County, Oklahoma, west of Alva. The tornado was massive, up to 1.8 miles wide, and traveled at forward speeds of about 50 miles per hour. It first struck Glazier and Higgins in the Texas Panhandle, devastating both towns and producing at least 69 fatalities in Texas before crossing into Oklahoma. In Ellis County, Oklahoma, the tornado did not strike any towns, passing to the southeast of Shattuck, Gage, and Fargo. Even though no towns were struck, nearly 60 farms and ranches were destroyed and 8 people were killed with 42 more injured. Moving into Woodward County, one death was reported near Tangier.
The violent tornado (F5 on the Fujita Scale) unleashed its worst destruction on Woodward, striking the city without warning at 8:42 pm. Over 100 city blocks on the west and north sides of the city were destroyed with lesser damage in the southeast portion of the town. Confusion and fires reigned in the aftermath with over 1000 homes and businesses destroyed, at least 107 people killed in and around Woodward, and nearly 1000 additional injuries. Normal communications between Woodward and the outside world were not restored for some time and there was great uncertainty as to victim status. In fact, the bodies of three children were never identified, and one child who survived the tornado was lost and never reunited with her family. Help for Woodward came from many places, including units from as far away as Oklahoma City and Wichita. Beyond Woodward, the tornado lost some intensity, but still destroyed 36 homes and injured 30 people in Woods County before ending.
In all, at least 116 lives were lost in Oklahoma on that fateful night. Never before or since has a tornado been so costly to human life in the Sooner State. Because of the Woodward tornado and other devastating tornadoes in the late 1940's and early 1950's, and because of new technologies available after World War II, the Weather Bureau (now the National Weather Service) began a tornado watch and warning program in 1953. During the last five decades, the warning system composed of the National Weather Service, local civil preparedness agencies, and the media has continued to mature and provide better and better information to citizens to help them protect themselves from tornadoes. Because of the strengths of the warning system, tornado death tolls in Oklahoma, and nationwide, have dropped considerably with each passing decade and, hopefully, will continue to decrease."
Now with Doppler radar coverage of Woodward from Norman, Dodge City, and an Air Force AFB NEXRAD located northwest of Enid in Alfalfa County...Woodward is better protected than it ever has been. Doppler radar technology has dramatically improved the warning process...and it is probable that a storm like the Woodward tornado of 1947 would be warned on well in advance by the National Weather Service.
- Donald W. Burgess, formerly with the National Severe Storms Laboratory (NSSL)
All photographs were presented to the National Weather Service in Norman by the City of Woodward.