48th Anniversary of the Topeka Tornado

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Tornado's Path

The Topeka Tornado, which struck around 7pm on a mild but muggy evening, claimed 16 lives and injured over 500 people. This F5 tornado was a half mile wide at times, and had a path of about 22 miles through the heart of the city. With a forward northeast speed of about 30 mph, the tornado moved from its birth in extreme southwest Shawnee county, near Auburn, across the city, to it's conclusion east of Billard Airport in around 30 minutes.

Damage in Downtown Topeka

About 820 homes were destroyed and 3000 damaged as entire blocks were leveled to splinters in seconds. Every building on the Washburn University campus was damaged, many totally destroyed from the tornadoes violent winds estimated at around 300 mph. The Capitol Dome sustained damage from tremendous flying debris, as did many downtown Topeka buildings. Power and other utilities were out in much of the community for weeks.

Damage in Southwest Topeka

Most of the Topeka received excellent warning as storm spotters were deployed early, and a tornado watch had been in effect for several hours. Many people were at home having dinner and watching TV when the warning was announced and sirens sounded. Thorough and specific tornado educational plans in place through the county and city for many years paid off as residents took cover.

Total dollar cost was put at $100 million making it, at the time, the costliest tornado in American history. Even to this day, with inflation factored in, the Topeka tornado stands as one of the costliest on record. The violent tornado passed directly over Burnetts Mound, in southwest Topeka, ending an old Indian legend that the mound would protect the city from tornadoes.

Often overshadowed by the Topeka destruction, a large tornado also hit the city of Manhattan on June 8th causing 65 injuries. The Manhattan Tornado hit about 545pm on the northwest edge of the city, destroying 11 homes and damaging 328 others. Losses at Kansas State University alone totalled nearly $2 million. This tornado had a 19 mile long path beginning east of Fort Riley to northeast of Manhattan. Shortly after the Topeka tornado, two other tornadoes were reported in Leavenworth county, east of Topeka. One additional fatality and two injuries occurred near Jarbalo.

Today also marks the 40th anniversary of the Emporia tornado

June 8 1974 is the day a devastating tornado hit Emporia and surrounding areas. The 1974 tornado ripped through populated sections on the northwest side of Emporia killing 6 people and injuring 200.

The tornado was rated an F4 on the Fujita Tornado Intensity scale due to massive damage and destruction at an Emporia shopping center, mobile home park, nursing home, apartment complex and residential homes. Most of the deaths were in the mobile home park, while property damage in Lyon county was estimated at $25 million. Ten farmsteads were also damage in rural areas along the tornado path.

The tornado hit around 6PM, was up to a half mile wide and tracked nearly 38 miles across Lyon, Osage and Shawnee counties before finally dissipating southwest of Auburn.

The June 8, 1974, Emporia tornado occurred on the same date as the infamous 1966 Topeka tornado, and is often overshadowed by the incredible damage of the Topeka tornado.

Posted by Doug Meyers