Tornado Outbreak in Harper County Kansas on 5/12/04 (5/14/2004)

By: Chance Hayes

Eleven tornadoes move across the central portions of Harper county producing one F4 and three F2's.

May 12th, 2004 may become one of the more memorable days for several people across Kansas and across the nation. At printing, the National Weather Service in Wichita, KS has officially documented, assessed, and tracked 11 tornadoes across the central portions of Harper County. See image 1 for a map of the tornado tracks.

All of the tornadoes were spawned by cyclical Supercells that moved across the county between the hours of 730 pm and 10 pm. The Supercells produced five F0 tornadoes, one F1 tornado, three F2 tornadoes, and one F4 tornado. The staff at the NWS Wichita office was marveled at the radar signatures that were produced on the WSR-88D Doppler radar. Very few times in a meteorologists career will see a hook echo as well defined as the one in image 2. Rotational velocities at times reached over 100 knots as seen in image 3.

The strongest tornado according to the Fujita scale occurred just after 830 pm three miles to the southeast of Harper. This homestead was set amongst several small cedar and large trees within a field of maturing wheat. At one time, this was a classic Kansas farmstead (front view image 13 and rear view image 14), however, it is now completely gone (image 4). The two residents of the home were seeking refuge in their basement at the time the tornado ravaged their home (see image 5). After looking at all of the debris that had collected in the basement, it was a miracle that only a minor injury was sustained. The basement had filled with copious amounts of debris that included two debarked trees, an automobile engine, a refrigerator, and several other unidentifiable objects. Here is a picture (image 15) showing the bench frame where they sat. See image 6, image 7 and image 8 for additional damage pictures.

The most notable tornado, image 9, which received widespread coverage on local and national television, occurred 1 mile southeast of Attica. (See Image 17) This tornado was rated as an F2 due to the complete loss of the roof, two barns being destroyed and slight realignment of the vehicles. See pictures of this damage at image 10 and image 11.

More F2 damage occurred just about one mile south of the location that received F4 damage. You could see considerable damage to a workshop as well as extensive damage to the top floor of a two story home. (See image 12)

One last intriguing hazard with this event was the large hail that fell on the east side of Harper (image 16).

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