Wednesday, May 02, 2007

May 4, 1977 - Day of the Twisters

... The Tornado Outbreak Of MAY 4, 1977 ...

A tornado outbreak in the Kansas City Metro area not experienced for a dozen years prior and not comparable to any until May 3, 2003.

Fourteen F-2 or greater-intensity tornadoes ... five of those in the KC MetroRegion ... occurred on this date in IA, NE, MO and KS.

In the KANSAS CITY MetroRegion alone, there were 3 fatalities with at least four-dozen people injured. It was also the day of this authors' first actual "tornado chase."

Next-day story from the Associated Press

*** 1. PLEASANT HILL, MO Tornado ***

On the prior weekend, I had spent that Sunday with a female companion at a pool party at a home of the companion's sister and brother-in-law on Delaware Street in the Baldwin Park area of PLEASANT HILL,MO, a suburban community of (then) around 2,500 people about 25 miles southeast of Downtown KC,MO.. 

I would unexpectedly return to PLEASANT HILL 3 days later and the next weekend, the party's hosts would be cleaning debris from that swimming pool.

Even without detailed weather information now available on the Internet, the author could sense the coming Danger from Weather by a glorious cirrus-filled sunset on May 3rd.

It had been a warm day on an outing at Lake Jacomo ... mid 70s ...with increasing surface winds of a southeasterly component, rapidly-falling barometer and rising dew points.

The sunrise of Wednesday, May 4, 1977 was mostly refracted light ... nimbostratus clouds racing northward ... warm ... around 70 degrees, humid with dew points approaching the air temperature and tropical depression-type south-southeasterly winds, gusting frequently in the 20 to 30 m.p.h. range.

Danger from Weather felt near.

It's my day off as a firefighter/EMT in the KC,MO. Fire Department. Around 11:30 a.m., I pick up a friend from her apartment just blocks south of tornado-famed Ruskin Heights to run some errands.

In LINN County KS, thunderstorms rapidly become severe as they approach southwestern CASS County, MO.. 

As the storms cross the state line, the first in a series of strong tornadoes over western Missouri that day touches down around 11:45 a.m. in a farm field about 5 miles southeast of DREXEL.

While sitting in the car in the parking lot of the Truman Corners shopping center in GRANDVIEW, I watched the dark-bottomed nimbo-type cloud cover racing northeastward - noting a general darkening of the cloud cover south-southwest. 

I switched the AM radio from the country/news station (WDAF '61 Country') off station to "hear the lightning (static)." It's a crude but effective way to monitor nearby storm development (The old U.S. Weather Bureau had a "Sferics (static) Unit" in the early 1950's.). 

Tornadic static sounds like a dozen people with big gravel-filled buckets randomly but constantly pouring the contents onto a tin roof.

Just as we are leaving the shopping center's parking lot, the tornado warning for CASS County is broadcast. 

In mutual agreement - equipped only with a portable 4-channel radio scanner, a mobile Citizen's Band radio and a cheap, 35mm camera with 3 pictures left on the roll, we head south to try and intercept the storm.

The twister alternates from F-2 to F-3 intensity as it skipped perpendicular to state highway Missouri (M)-2, destroying and/or damaging more than a dozen homes and outbuildings. .

On U.S. 71 south of the city of BELTON and with light traffic, I decide to push the fire-engine red 1972 Cutlass a bit past the posted speed limit. 

Even with the overcast, the darkening sky ahead foretold the storm's location. 

South of PECULIAR, an outflow or gust front reveals itself, so I decide it best to pull onto the highway shoulder and allow it's passage.

The thunderstorm supercell with the semi-rain-wrapped tornado move over U.S. 71 just northwest of the county seat of HARRISONVILLE and skirts the north city limits of HARRISONVILLE toward Highway M-291. 

On the south side of a rural road just west of M-291, the tornado strikes and heavily damages several homes, then crosses the highway and takes off the top of a barn.

In bright sunshine and with the darkness of the storm in the proper position ... to our left and ahead ... we exit U.S. 71 onto northbound M-291 in HARRISONVILLE. 

At the north city limits, the cloud cover returns and ahead we see leaning utility poles, then the damaged homes and barn. 

I pull east onto the rural road just long enough to photograph the barn and listen to some bewildered livestock bleating loudly. 

The farmhouse- about 50 feet east of the barn- has only superficial damage.

With rescuers having already arrived at the damaged homes, we continued north on M-291. 

A short distance north of the damage and even though we are behind the tornado itself, we run into torrential rain. 

It is raining so hard I have to turn the AM radio up to almost full volume and 
with the windshield wipers running full speed, a top speed of only 25 to 30 m.p.h. on the 50 m.p.h. highway seemed prudent.

The tornado continues on a more northeasterly track now, paralleling the north-south Highway M-7. 

Now a well- established F-3 multi-vortex, it continued to roll over northeastern CASS County land, damaging and/or destroying farm homes and outbuildings as it neared the southwestern city limit of PLEASANT HILL. 

On an anticipated mutual-aid response, several units from the Northwestern Cass Fire Protection District (now called "South Metro") station in RAYMORE stage on the eastbound lane of M-58 highway about a mile west of town.

As we arrive at the intersection of M-291 and M-58 highways, the torrential rain suddenly becomes a light shower - then ceases altogether. As we head east on M-58, we have yet to see so much as a rotating scud cloud, let alone a funnel. 

The tornado is no-doubt rain-wrapped, but was still well ahead of us. I was thinking now of the hosts of that previous weekend's pool party, for they were both employed by the town's school district. 

Both the scanning and CB radios were useless, I didn't even know if the tornado was still on the ground, let alone that PLEASANT HILL might be hit.

As we approached the hill into the Big Creek valley west of town, I noticed cars and a NWCFPD fire apparatus parked in the eastbound driving lane. 

With no oncoming traffic, I hit the horn and swung out into the westbound lane to pass as one of the firefighters stood on the highway's center line frantically waving his arms trying to warn us of what we already knew was just ahead.

I slowed only a bit as we passed the group, scanning above the treeline as I slowed some more. 

At that moment, we see a semi-sunlit mass of clouds swirling horizontally north to south just ahead and to the right, but STILL no discernible funnel. 

We cautiously continue on a heading to interception at PLEASANT HILL.

Blowing away parts of homes here and outbuildings there, the tornado crossed the southern city limit of PLEASANT HILL at about 10 minutes after noon. 

Moving more north-northeasterly now, the twister crossed Highway M-7 about a half-mile south-southeast of the downtown area and rode along a ridge to the east of M-7, heading for the PLEASANT HILL high and elementary schools.

At that instant- we had slowly entered the dark and foreboding PLEASANT HILL business district. 

To this day, my impression was that we had just entered an episode of the 'Twilight Zone.' It was dark ... no lights whatsoever ... and no movement of anyone or anything on M-58 or surrounding streets. 

The cloud swirl was over the buildings and trees in front, just to the left of us as we approached M-7. 

We sat for a few minutes at the highway intersection and viewed the devastation along the ridge to the east ... tree trunks stripped of all but the largest main branches and structures with various stages of destruction. 

I watched the swirling clouds ... now moving west to east to our left ... and only then realized the high school was in that very direction.

As the tornado's main vortex approached the high school, hundred of students and faculty there and at the nearby elementary school had been pre-warned of the tornado and were hunkered-down in their tornado drill positions in the lowest floor hallways. 

First to get hit by the tornado was the parking lot on the south side of the high school. 

The force of the wind shattered virtually every window in the two-dozen or so cars in the lot, peeled back hoods and trunk lids on some and moved others against each other. 

One car flipped over onto another as windows in the main high school building a hundred or so feet away started to shatter and pieces of the buildings exterior and roof began to peel away. 

At the gymnasium on the east side, the north and south walls are blown down and portions of the roof fly away. 

At this point, a miracle of sorts happens. 

The main tornado circulation veers right - through the open athletic fields between the two schools, mangling and blowing away chain-link fences, bending fence posts and light standards to 45-degree angles, but avoiding a direct hit on either school. 

(A student at the elementary school at the time has her recollection of the tornado HERE.)

Still, moderate to heavy damage was done to both buildings. 

The tornado strengthened slightly north of the schools in a residential area containing Delaware Street, then the vortex continued on for another couple of miles before lifting back into the parent storm near County Road VV.

I fear the worst as we approach the bottom of the hill from the high school and see the damage. I pull the car onto the shoulder and into a large puddle, killing the engine.

With the rotating cloud unrecognizable as a funnel still visible and moving to the northeast, we run up the hill to offer what aid we could.

Virtually every south-facing window in the high school building had been blown out, with many of the several hundred students and teachers in the building climbing out of shattered lower-story windows.

Before we approached the building, I took several photos of the observed damage in the parking lot, then stopped short.

It was deja-vu - the gymnasium had concrete and steel arches - built almost exactly alike the Ruskin High School gym that was destroyed in the 1957 tornado.

Missouri Highway Patrol Trooper E.J. Horne arrived several minutes after we did and witnessed the utter chaos. Attempts were already underway to round up and account for the many dozens of students crawling out the battered high school.

Many headed for the lone police car, some bleeding from cuts by flying glass and nearly all speckled by bits of building debris & insulation.

Trooper Horne listened to whatever information he could get about casualties and radioed those reports back to the MHP Troop A headquarters in LEES SUMMIT.

Around 12:20 p.m. as I talked with the trooper facing and surveying the damaged building, I turned around to look south and see clearly ... a second funnel cloud hanging down backlighted by a clear area in another storm cell.

Trooper Horne jumped in his cruiser and radioed the sighting as I asked students where an appropriate shelter might be located. That was the basement of the First Baptist church, several blocks west of the school.

I yelled for those around the trooper's car to come on and we ran down the hill to my car ... just then remembering the motor had had died when I drove into the large puddle.

With relief, the engine came to life as the half-dozen or so students crammed into and on the Cutlass and we headed without delay to the church.

We arrived in the midst of more chaos as people were pouring into the area of the church by foot and by vehicle. With no parking spaces nearby, I parked in the front yard of a home next to the church and we ran inside.

The church's basement was quite large, from what I could see there were at least two big rooms and a walled-off kitchen. In the one large room inside the door where we had entered stood dozens of adults and kids, many of whom were talking loudly with more than a few crying.

I scanned the many terror-stricken faces for hopes of seeing the hosts of the pool party I had attended, to no avail.

It was then that rescuers brought in two unconscious and appearing to be sandblasted persons on makeshift stretchers of storm-detached doors, laying them down on the floor just inside the door, then leaving.

My friend and I stood in a narrow space between frightened school children and the injured. The crying was starting to turn to wailing and it was involving more of the kids.

It was time to act.

I stood on a chair and in the loudest voice I could muster, asked for everybody's attention. Among scattered sobs, the room became amazingly quiet.

I first asked for anybody with first aid training to come forward, then asked if the teachers and older teens would move the younger children into the adjoining room so as not to view the two bloody and torn victims.

Several persons stepped up to help and we carefully moved the injured on their make-shift stretchers into the closed off kitchen. I instructed my friend what we needed to do for the injured ... considering we had no equipment ... and she calmly helped instruct the others as well as offer her aid.

We monitored the two persons' pulses and breathing - keeping them still until regular EMS people arrived about 15 minutes later and took the patients away.

We had forgotton about the 2nd funnel cloud. One of the medics assured me that it had moved away east of town.

We left the church basement into bright, warm sunshine. We made our way back to M-7 and turned north. Before leaving town however, I decided to turn down Delaware Street to check on the house where the pool party had been held.

"Good God" was all I could say as we approached the house. It had suffered mostly cosmetic damage, but all the houses to the east were much more severely damaged with one house at the end of the street completely blown away, leaving only a clean concrete slab.

Seeing enough, we headed back to M-7 and north - past the police roadblock that had now been set up with a growing line of civilian vehicles, emergency and news crews trying to get into town- and headed back to K.C..

Two persons were killed in the PLEASANT HILL tornado that day ... one in a mobile home near the Highways M-7 and M-58 junction and one in a house in the Baldwin Park area.

Twelve of the 15 total injured were in PLEASANT HILL, where twenty-five homes and 17 mobile homes were destroyed and an additional 56 homes ... plus the schools ...were damaged.

Damage totaled more than $3,000,000.

The tornado's total path was surveyed at nearly 30 miles long with an average width reported to be 500 yards. The storm was officially rated as a strong F-3 on the FUJITA scale.

However, a house at the end of Delaware Street had been swept completely clean off its concrete foundation - that was at least F-4 damage. It had been a newer, well-built brick and wood-framed ranch home and in retrospect, it well may have been where one of the fatalities occurred.

*** 2. ODESSA - HIGGINSVILLE,MO tornado ***

From the same series of storm cells that produced the PLEASANT HILL tornado, an F-3 dropped from the sky just east of ODESSA in LAFAYETTE County, MO about 1:15 p.m. CDT.

The tornado moved northeast across Interstate 70, through HIGGINSVILLE and on to the vicinity of WAVERLY,MO.

Near ODESSA, the occupant of a trailer was killed.

In HIGGINSVILLE, 100 homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged.

The path length was 26 miles and the average width 100 yards.

Five persons were injured.

*** 3. SEDALIA,MO tornado ***

Storm that produced the Sedailia tornado as viewed west of Whiteman AFB near Knob Noster MO 

This F-3 tornado touched down around 1:30 p.m. 9 miles southwest of SEDALIA and went through that PETTIS County community of about 30,000 people before lifting 2 miles northeast of SEDALIA.

Among destroyed businesses was a golf course's pro shop and country club in the southwest portion of the city. 

Approximately 150 homes were destroyed with 300 more damaged. Several schools were damaged, causing two of the schools to be closed for the short-remainder of the school year.

There were no fatalities, but twenty-four persons were injured, five seriously.

The path length was 11 miles and the tornado was as wide as 700 yards at times with media reports of damage "estimated in the millions of dollars."

"Near F-4 damage" was reported at farms southwest of SEDALIA.
Damaged home at an unknown location in Sedalia MO 

Tornadic thunderstorm supercells continued to explode in western Missouri that Wednesday afternoon. The first F-4 tornado of the day touched ground at 4:40 p.m. near ATHERTON in the Missouri River bottoms of northern JACKSON County.

Moving northeast, the tornado passed mercifully between MISSOURI CITY and ORRICK (see deadly Orrick Tornado of January 1967 HERE), through the southern portions of EXCELSIOR SPRINGS, then to near WOOD HEIGHTS in extreme western RAY County MO where the tornado lifted.

Four homes were destroyed near MISSOURI CITY with 24 homes damaged or destroyed in the EXCELSIOR SPRINGS area.

Two dormitories and a home were destroyed at a church campground. Five persons were reported injured, but no fatalities. The path length was 10 miles with an average width of 350 yards.

A National Weather Service employee later told the author that even though this was an intense tornado, it could not be detected because even at 20 miles away, it was too close to the old WSR-57 radar's dish antenna atop the old Federal building at 9th Street and Grand downtown.

That antenna was soon relocated to a new NWS forecast office at K.C. International Airport, then in the 1990's the WSR-88D Doppler radar antenna site was built at the new NWS forecast office in north PLEASANT HILL.

The second area F-4 tornado of the day developed north of RICHMOND around 5:15 p.m., moving northeast, then east to north of ROCKINGHAM, CARROLLTON and lifted near BRUNSWICK.

While missing those towns head-on, the tornado still damaged over 200 homes, barns and out-buildings.

The tornado's main funnel was on the ground continuously and witnesses reported as many as five smaller funnels touching down at the same time.

The estimated damage was $4,000,000. The path length was 50 miles with an average width of 800 yards.

*** 6. DOUGLAS - JOHNSON County KS - JACKSON COUNTY MO tornado ***

The last area tornado of this outbreak would come just before sunset, uncharacteristically southwest and west of the earlier supercells now in Iowa and northeast to central Missouri.

It would also be the only twister that day to directly threaten and actually strike KC,MO ... as well as the southwestern suburbs of OLATHE and OVERLAND PARK.

The tornado formed about 2 miles northwest of WORDEN in southern DOUGLAS County KS around 7 p.m. CDT. Rated as an F-2, the tornado then moved east-northeast to north of BALDWIN CITY, where a woman was injured when the mobile home she was in was destroyed.

The tornado ... now described by witnesses as "large" ... came into JOHNSON County over mostly farmland 4 miles northwest of Edgerton and on to Lake Olathe. Before moving into OLATHE, the ground circulation lifted into a funnel cloud before moving over the city of then around 40,000 persons..

The storm/funnel cloud moved east-northeast along K-150 (135th Street), briefly touching down in places.

Just after 8 p.m., a Vickers gas station on K-150 (135th Street) west of U.S. 69 was virtually destroyed. Three people sought shelter in a stock room and were uninjured.

A large light pole at the U.S. 69 interchange just east of the station was bent slightly by the force of the winds and the bent pole remained visible and in service for many years afterwards.

A nearby golf course was covered with large hail with trees, utility poles and lines blown down.
The tornado again lifted into a funnel cloud, sighted by a number of law enforcement officers as the storm continued on into KC,MO north of the old MARTIN CITY community on 135th Street.

Around 8:25 p.m. the funnel is reported by police radio "over U.S. 71 and Blue Ridge."

As the report of the funnel over U.S. 71 came in, I was in my friend's apartment - even though we knew the storm would strike the south part of the city for half an hour with plenty of time to drive well north of the area.

Since the apartment was on the ground floor with a walled, interior bathroom, we elected to ride it out there. With the police radio scanner, pillows and blankets went into the bathtub along with my friend.

Scattered hailstones the size of baseballs began falling. Hearing the hail, I cautiously went to peek out the patio door.

Sliding open the glass, the air was filled with the same sulpheric odor that I remembered during the 1966 OVERLAND PARK tornado's storm.

Hearing a faint "whooshing" noise, I stepped out from the patio and looked northwest. Blocks away ... illuminated by the city lights ...a funnel cloud shaped like the 1966 OVERLAND PARK twister rapidly dips down then back up.

I went back to tell my friend what I saw and the scanner confirmed the strike moments later... onto the Ruskin Place apartments at Longview and Blue Ridge.

I immediately went to the scene, met by a KC,MO. police car coming south on Blue Ridge in front of the Ruskin Place.

Laying in the 5-lane roadway was a 3x5-foot section of apartment-building roofing and other scraps of debris. Looking into the complex, a section of wall from a building had fallen toward the street, with the lighted, untouched living room of a 2nd-floor apartment clearly visible.

Windows had been blown out on several units, cutting the occupants by flying glass. Two women were personally helped from the complex, dazed and bleeding from lacerations. They were quickly tended to as first responders arrived within minutes.

In fact, there was such a rapid and large response of KC and GRANDVIEW emergency agencies I quickly departed back to the apartment before a complete assessment of injuries or damage was made.

What damage I did see was consistent with an F-1 rating. The Ruskin strike is not listed in "official" records of this particular tornado. If the Ruskin-area totals are counted, at least 3 persons were injured with a damage estimate around $250,000 in 1977-value-dollars.

All in all, May 4, 1977 was a day that we in the Kansas City MetroRegion hope never happens again.

But someday, it shall.

(NOTE: If you experienced any portion of this tornado outbreak- please share your memories in the comment section below.)


Anonymous said...

What a great account of this fateful day. This should be published!! I too recall the events. I was sitting in Climatology class at UMKC ( 51st and Rockhill) when I noticed the very pronouned mammatus cumulus clouds to the southeast. I commennted to the professor that today looks like a perfect day for severe weather;but he disagreed. When I left class about 1:30PM. WDAF top news story was the Pleasant Hill tornado.

Grinds My Gears said...

I was in the tornado that happened in Pleasant Hill that day. I was in the first grade in the elementary school. My oldest brother was in the high school and he had ran down to the elementary school after the hits. I remember everything from that day. I also remember "the guy" on the chair in the church where we were picked up by my mom and her neighbor. My dad had seen the tornado hit both schools that day. Now I chase them. Go figure.

Groucho K. Marx said...

Well hey Mark- get ahold of me!

I'm still chasing (sorta) but have quite the suite of wx info here if YOU go chasing.

Hey- I'm glad SOMEBODY remembered "the guy on the chair" in the church that day.

Things were crazy and I just felt someone had to take some control.

God Bless Mark and...

-Groucho (aka Jim Meyer)

David Botts said...

I remember the Pleasant Hill, Missouri tornado very well. I was a Freshman at CMSU in Warrensburg and worked at Dick Holm Chevrolet in Holden. Shortly before noon I was asked to drive to Harrisonville to pick up some parts at a machine shop. As was customary, I grabbed a truck from the used car lot, and headed off to Harrisonville. The truck I selected didn't have a radio, so when it started to rain, I didn't have a way to monitor the storm, other than visual observation. As I arrived in Pleasant Hill on 58 Highway, the rain had become quite heavy. As I turned onto 7 Highway headed south toward Harrisonville the rain had continued to be very heavy. A short distance south of Pleasant Hill the wind began to really blow the rain across my windshield. As I looked to the west I could see a large funnel cloud coming diagonally from the southwest to the northeast. It appeared to be only a few hundred yards away. Because I was headed south, and the tornado was to my west, I didn't feel as though I was in any eminent danger, so I continued 7 Highway to Harrisonville. As I arrived in Harrisonville the streets were completely empty and the sun was bright against a blue sky. It had stopped raining, however, it was apparent a large storm had just passed through. The front door to the machine shop was locked and as I banged on the door, the employees slowly rose from behind the counters where they had taken cover. They told me they had taken cover when the sirens sounded and I told them I had just seen the tornado. I had to wait almost an hour before the parts were ready. I loaded them into the truck and headed back toward Warrensburg. When I got to Pleasant Hill on 7 Highway, the National Guard already had the highway closed. Somehow I was let through since I was headed to Warrensburg. I as passed the manufacturing facility next to the highway along 58 I could see that several pieces of the metal siding and roofing were missing. At the time, I had no idea of the total devastation to the town of Pleasant Hill. I probably missed being at the intersection of 7 and 58 highways when the tornado hit by only minutes.

Groucho K. Marx said...

EXCELLENT account David!

Glad you made it okay and thanks SO MUCH for your story of that day in 1977.

Great holidays to you and yours-

Paula Wycoff McWhirt said...

I was in the high school that day, and it's a day I will never forget! I was in the 8th grade. We went into the hall and sat facing the lockers. I was by the door to the classroom I had been in. Desks and all objects were being sucked out into the hall and out the roof that was no longer there. The girl next to me was a tiny thing, and I could feel her being lifted off the floor so I laid over her to keep her from flying away.

At the time my father was a Lee's Summit Police Officer and was called to Pleasant Hill for backup. He knew there were no fatalities in the school but he also knew he had myself and my older brother in that school. When he saw the school he said "I knew that no one had died and still my heart came up into my throat"

For the longest time I feared tornados, but that has changed. I know if it happens there is nothing I can do to stop them, just take cover!

Groucho K. Marx said...

Thanks for your story Paula!

Anonymous said...

I was in the Sedalia tornado that day... a second grade student in Mark Twain Elementary. It was one of the schools that was closed afterwards. I remember the sky became dark as night and glass flying everywhere. We weren't allowed to leave school that day afterwards either...we had to be retrieved by a family member. My mother worked at the shoe factory on the west edge of Sedalia and rode the storm out there. It was right in the path of that tornado... located near the trailer park that was destroyed and the drive in theatre. It is amazing what an 8 year old can remember when it is something that truamatic. I have definately respected the power of a tornado ever since, yet am completely fascinated with them.

Anonymous said...

I was also in the tornado that hit Pleasant Hill.. first grade. I remember the sound of it when it hit the school and the absolute darkness that followed. Spent the next day wandering around on Country Club Drive climbing over the debris...

Unknown said...

What a great account of this frightful day! My husband lived in Drexel and I lived in Sedalia when this hit. I was Nine and my house was damaged. The 2 car garage behind us was on top of our house and the house next to that was completely of its foundation. I will never forget the sound of it as I huddled in the hallway at Heber Hunt Elementary School. Thanks for posting!

Unknown said...

What a great account of this frightful day! My husband lived in Drexel and I lived in Sedalia when this hit. I was Nine and my house was damaged. The 2 car garage behind us was on top of our house and the house next to that was completely of its foundation. I will never forget the sound of it as I huddled in the hallway at Heber Hunt Elementary School. Thanks for posting!

Unknown said...

I, too, remember this day well. I was a freshman in high school at Higginsville C-1 High School. That tornado went through town, turned around and came back through. We were taken to the basement twice that day during the tornado warnings. Our high school sign was later found in Mayview, MO which is between Higginsville and Odessa. Every window of every car in the high school parking lot was blown out. The roof of the bank downtown was lifted, turned and set back down on top of the building. Huge trees and power lines littered the streets. I remember the painstaking care our school bus driver at the time was taking to try to get our bus through town to pick up students at the junior high school that afternoon to take us all home. It was a nerve-wrecking ordeal for her and it took several hours to get out of town. The sound of the tornado is one I will never forget, nor the images of the damage I witnessed first hand that day.

Unknown said...

Hey Capt. Spaulding! Thank You! I imagine our paths crossed briefly at the First Baptist Church of Pleasant Hill. I was surprised at the time you said the twister hit P Hill, cause I always remembered it being earlier in the day.. Anyway I was in third grade, and we were the senior grade of the brand new primary school(K-3) which you didn't mention in your recollection, however it was hit very hard by that twister. We all went down to the basement/shelter and huddled for a half of an hour or so while that monster chewed up and spit out the school above us! It was Crazy Scary. When we came up we were all so confused.. never had we seen such....chaos. But thanks to the city planners and the building engineers and the early warning system we were all unharmed!

Anonymous said...

May 4, 1977, I resided and worked in Sedalia. I was also a student at State Fair Community College (then known as Plywoood U.). My parents lived in Clinton while I had roomed near the Bothwell Hospital where I worked. I did not work that day, and had called "home" to let mom and dad know I would be there for dinner. Fortunately for me, the tornado warning system had sounded just as I ended the phone call, for the path I would have been driving was in the immediate path of the oncoming tornado.

I had gone to the hospital to use the payphones to call home. Upon exiting the phone booth, the pre-storm silence caught me, and looking out the front door, saw an eerie green. Then I became aware of the sirens. I went to the basement of the hospital, where the department of my workplace was. Being in the basement, no one had yet heard the sirens, and no announcement had been made on the intercom. Thus, when I volunteered, everyone thought I was kidding around. When I finally convinced them of the event, everyone moved.

Later, after the tornado, I volunteered with the Civil Defense over the next several days. I saw some amazing things, including a house that had been stripped to the floors - nothing standing above the floor, save for the toilet. I heard later that no one was home at the time, though I don't know this firsthand. At Nevin's home, I saw a swing set where his doghouse had been, and clay balls that had punched holes through the outer walls of his home and plastered themselves to the inner walls, still in place 3 days later. Tornadoes do strange things.

One photograph of the tornado was presented to the Civil Defense several days later. It had been taken from a window of a restaurant, now the Country Kitchen, on South US65 Highway, directly across from the country club pro shack that suffered a direct hit. I was amazed, for this was the first time I had seen evidence of child tornadoes. The picture showed one very large V shaped funnel and 4 smaller twisters. This explained the strange tornado paths through town, for it seemed the tornado had touched down, picked up, went backwards, then touched down moving in a different bearing. Fortunately for Sedalia, the big funnel did not touch down (though there was some evidence that suggested it uprooted some old oak trees), for the damage would have been much worse. And, fortunately for Sedalia, all incoming electricity lines had been severed by the tornado - it prevented sparks that may have caused some fires.

Thanks for publishing your blog. These stories need to be told before all of us who saw these things are gone. And, thanks to all the Emergency Response organizations and volunteers who step in during a crisis.


Stacey Ford said...

I remember that day to well. We lived at the end of Delaware. The house with the pool you spoke of was one street to the North. I knew them as well. Our house was the second to the last on the north side of the street. It was a newer ranch brick front. The damage was major loss to the roof and naturally all the windows. My Auntie's house on the street behind was totally demolished with only one wall in the kitchen standing. Also the master bed with the dog under it. She was shaken, but ok. Even though I was only nine years old, I remember every second of that day, and several days after.

Msherbie said...

I was in Mark Twin elementary when the tornado hit Sedalia in 1977. I remember the sound of the huge old tree across the street falling with a bang and then it seems like the tornado came in sounding like a train. Glass was flying everywhere and I remember at least one boy in our class was cut by the glass. It was pretty frightening. I've looked for pictures of what the school looked like after the tornado hit but really haven't had much luck. I would think a tornado hitting a grade school full of kids would be newsworthy enough to warrent some pictures. If anyone has some or knows of a site where I could view them I would love to take a look.

SylvreKat said...

The St Andrews/Vickers tornado actually formed directly over my house on 143rd St. A cop had come up the street and warned my folks who were out in the front yard to take cover. So Mom, my oldest brother, and I were in the basement with our dog. Dad and my other brother were out front watching the clouds. Dad sent my brother in 'cause the circulation was starting to tighten. A minute or two later, I heard the front door slam and Dad was shutting the basement door--I suspect he jumped the flight of stairs from the kitchen to the family room and even the basement stairs. The whole house shuddered and the lights went out for a few seconds, then everything got still. Dad went first to check, then let us join him. We could see dark grey from sky to ground to our NE, where St Andrews' golf and pool were.

Dad later told me after he sent my brother in, he continued to watch the circulation. All of the sudden it came together and starting dropping right over the house. That's when he bolted. He suspected it was moving fast enough that it had passed our house by the time it dropped enough to cause any damage (since our house suffered nothing, not even a lost shingle off the roof). And finished dropping at the pool.

I am quite content if that is my closest contact with a tornado for the rest of my life.


Barbara Wilmot said...

I grew up in Gardner Kansas and vividly remember the 5-4-77 tornado. We lived on West Washington street on the west end of Gardner....we looked out onto fields. Several of us watched the funnel go up and down around De Soto. The funnel went up in the clouds and we thought it was over. A group of us were standing in my front yard, when we heard a hissing noise and smelled a muddy, ammonia smell. We looked up and the green clouds were right above us swirling like we were under a whirlpool. All of sudden the rotation headed north of Gardner (and was later classified as an F-3) hit the a local pig farm head on. My Dad and I chased tornadoes all around rural Johnson county in the time before cell phones, radios, etc. I still have the "chase" but and have given it to my husband as well. The thing that sticks with me the most is that looking up at the green whirlpool with the hissing wind, there were no trees or bushes blowing.

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