The 40th Anniversary of the Topeka Tornado
June 8, 1966
June 8th, 2006 will mark the 40th anniversary of the tornado that struck Topeka, Kansas. The tornado traveled a 22 mile long path through the heart of the capitol city. At times, the tornado was a half mile wide. Death, injuries, and devastation were left in the tornado’s wake. Sixteen people lost their lives to this deadly tornado, over 400 people were injured, and 4500 were left homeless.
In 1966, the damage was reported at $100 million dollars. After adjusting for inflation, the current value of $494 million would rank it as the 5th costliest tornado in this country. On the campus of Washburn University, all of the major structures were damaged and several were declared a total loss. Luckily, school was not in session, otherwise the toll on human lives could have been much higher.
The tornado formed about 7 pm west of Auburn in southwest Shawnee County, it then moved through the Auburn/Dover area at 7:11 pm and moved northeast across Burnett’s Mound at 7:15 pm. The tornado cut a path through the city from the 29th and Gage area, to Washburn University, to downtown Topeka at 11th and Kansas, through Oakland and finally to the Municipal (now known as Billard) Airport before dissipating.
About 800 homes were completely destroyed within an 8 block area in the heart of the city. Three thousand homes and downtown buildings were damaged and even the state capitol sustained damage from the flying debris. The intense destruction classified the tornado as an F5, the top of the Fujita intensity scale, with winds estimated at over 250 mph. Power, phone service and other utilities were down for several weeks in the affected areas.
Excellent watch, warning and storm spotter activation prior to the development of the tornado helped keep the death and injury toll relatively low considering the storm’s path through a populous area. Pre-planning and training of law enforcement, spotters, city and county officials as well as local media resulted in fewer casualties and injuries.
Damaging tornadoes are a reality for Kansans. The National Weather Service continues to study severe thunderstorms and improve technology to provide better severe weather warnings and forecasts. Still, trained spotters are needed to relay real-time ground truth reports to Meteorologists. Please report tornadoes, flooding, large hail or high winds to Emergency Officials and the National Weather Service, so that timely warnings can be issued to protect others in your community.