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The Plains Tornado Outbreak of April 26, 1991

Residents of the Plains states are no stranger to severe thunderstorms and tornadoes during the spring months, with April and May being the peak tornado months particularly for areas in the Southern and Central Plains region. While the occurrence of tornadoes in Oklahoma, Kansas, or Nebraska on any given April 26th would not be surprising to most people, the areal extent and violence of the tornado outbreak on April 26th in 1991 would stun even life-long residents of the region. On that day, tornadoes ravaged the Plains from morning until after dark, affecting areas from east Texas as far north as the Iowa/Minnesota border. Fifty-five total tornadoes developed, thirty of which were rated an F2 or greater on the Fujita scale. Unfortunately, twenty-one people – seventeen from one storm alone – died that day as a direct result of the severe weather. 

 

Storm Reports from 7 am CDT April 26, 1991, to 7 am CDT April 27, 1991

Storm Reports from 7 am CDT April 26, 1991, to 7 am CDT April 27, 1991

The most memorable and devastating tornadoes of the day occurred during the afternoon and evening hours across northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas. These included the much photographed long tracked F5 that raked across McConnell Air Force Base near Wichita and the Golden Spur Mobile Home park in Andover, Kansas, the 66-mile long F4 known as the “Red Rock” or “Billings” tornado that moved through north central Oklahoma, and the infamous Kansas Turnpike tornado near El Dorado filmed by a KSNW news crew as they sought cover beneath an overpass. Somewhat lesser filmed and therefore, lesser known violent tornadoes also touched down near Arkansas City, Kansas, Terlton, Oklahoma, and Oologah, Oklahoma, all 3 rated F4. The Terlton tornado heavily damaged portions of Westport and Skiatook, while the Oologah tornado destroyed much of the Oologah-Talala Public School district infrastructure. At one time, three separate F4 or F5 tornadoes – Andover, Red Rock, and Arkansas City – were on the ground simultaneously over a relatively small geographical distance.

Tornadoes Rated F3 or Greater
Time
Path
Fujita Rating
Path Length (Miles)
Path Width (Yards)
3:50 pm - 4:40 pm
3 SE Hollenberg, KS to SE Beatrice, NE
F3
24
200
5:15 pm - 5:40 pm
2 NW Douglas, NE to 7 NE Palmyra, NE
F3
14
350
5:57 pm - 7:10 pm
2 SSE Clearwater, KS to 5 N El Dorado, KS
F5
69
500
6:00 pm - 6:09 pm
6 E Enid, OK to 4 W Garber, OK
F3
6
350
6:30 pm - 7:55 pm
3 E Garber, OK to 9 WNW Pawhuska, OK
F4
66
1,000
6:30 pm - ?
5 W Arkansas City, KS to 3 NW Burden, KS
F4
25
500
7:11 pm - 7:16 pm
1 SW Mount Selman, TX to 1 NE Mount Selman, TX
F3
3
200
7:26 pm - ?
7 W Howard, KS to 2 W Severy, KS
F3
24
200
8:00 pm - 8:17 pm
Denison, IA to near Wall Lake, IA
F3
23
200
8:10 pm - 9:27 pm
2 WSW Terlton, OK to 1 NNW Skiatook, OK
F4
32
800
8:35 pm - ?
5 S Neal, KS to 8 N Toronto, KS
F3
15
50
9:45 pm - 9:53 pm
1 W Oologah, OK to Oologah Lake
F4
4
1,000

In recognition of the 20th Anniversary of this memorable tornado outbreak, the National Weather Service offices in Wichita, Norman, and Tulsa, and the Storm Prediction Center have collaborated on this online retrospective. Its contents feature not only the meteorological side of the event but also the personal perspectives from those who witnessed, lived through, or worked to warn of the tornadoes.

 

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