The climax of several days of tornadic and severe thunderstorm activity late in May 1955 occurred on the night of Wednesday, May 25th. A tornado struck at Blackwell, Oklahoma, killing 20 and injuring 250 with property damage in the millions.
About an hour later a tornado struck Udall, Kansas, some 40 miles north-northeast of Blackwell. The tornado traveled in a general southwest to northeast direction across the center of town. Most of this south-central Kansas town of about 500 people was leveled. The death toll stands at 80 at this writing, and 250 were injured.
Mrs. Robert C. Walker reported seeing the funnel of a tornado located about one mile east of Tonkawa. Mrs. Walker had a micro-barograph in operation at the time. When the tornado was sighted east of town, the barogram showed a sharp fall of about .08 inch Hg. followed immediately by a sharp rise of about .10 inch Hg. (the minimum pressure was recorded at about 2055 CST, however there were no time checks with which to determine the accuracy of the time element.) Shortly after 2100 CST the "worst hail in the history of our city" fell but with only light wind. Hail was heavier to the west. Some of the hail that fell in town measured almost 3 inches in diameter.
The tornado struck Blackwell, Oklahoma about 2127 CST. It traveled from the south to north with almost complete destruction over a path about two blocks wide, and considerable destruction extended 3 or 4 blocks farther on either side. Mr. Nave, who lives just south of the south city limits of Blackwell, reported a short period of wind and hail (about two inches in diameter). The hail was followed by a lull during which he went outside. Instead of the air being cool following the squall, it was "hot." Then the tornado funnel was sighted approaching from the south. It came with "the roar of forty freight trains." There was lightning all around but not in the immediate vicinity of the funnel.
Mrs. B. H. Joneses living on the north side of Blackwell, about 4 blocks from the damage area, reported squally weather with wind, rain and hail followed by a short period of quiet. He went outside, heard the "roar," and immediately sought shelter. Upon emerging, he saw the tornado funnel leaving town in a north- northeast direction, still in contact with the ground.
The pattern of debris at Blackwell gave the appearance of more inflow then actual rotation in the sense that trees to the west of the center of the path had been blown eastward, and those to the east had blown westward. Debris from buildings yielded little information because of the difficulty in being able to determine from where it came.
Following are two eyewitness accounts from an area about 23 miles north-northeast of Blackwell close to U.S. Highway 166, about 8 miles west of Arkansas City, Kansas. An elderly couple, Mr. And Mrs. Post, who live on a farm just south of a highway, report that their power failed at 9:58 PM (time ascertained from a stopped electric clock) followed in about 5 minutes by hail and shortly thereafter by a terrible roar. This was followed by a quiet lull which lasted probably less then a minute. The storm struck again, blowing down several large trees. These trees laying down toward the east must have been felled by a west wind. The couple was in the house the entire time, but looked out the windows during the course of the storm. When the initial roar was heard only blackness was visible to the south. After the tornado had passed over, it was clearly visible to the north against the back ground of almost constant lightning farther to the north. Upon questioning, neither Mr. Nor Mrs. Post experienced any sensation of change of pressure during the course of the storm.
The Earl Bennett farm is located about 2 ½ miles north-northeast of the Post farm. Mr. Bennett was roused from bed between 10:10 and 10:05 PM Wednesday by hail, some as large as hen's eggs, which fell covering his yard. This was accompanied by severe and constant lightning. Then the storm struck, destroying several outbuildings, carrying debris for about a mile to the north-northeast. This was followed by a lull which lasted about half a minute. Strong wind again struck suddenly (direction of wind unknown) but apparently with no further damage. Looking out to the north, Mr. Bennett saw the tornado funnel which was back-lighted by constant lightning further to the north. He described the funnel as hanging down from a black cloud and gyrating slowly back and forth. He estimated it to be about a quarter of a mile in diameter in its lower portions. From the pattern of destruction of the Bennett farm it was not possible to deduce direction of winds causing the damage. Debris which was carried to the north-northeast was relatively light in weight and was probably carried in the vortex.
Both of these accounts seemed to indicate the tornado funnel was on the trailing edge (south-southwest) of the parent thunderstorm itself, the parent thunderstorm being identified by the hail and severe lightning. Both accounts identified a quiet lull lasting for a minute or less between two storm surges suggestive of an "eye." In one case destruction occurred after the lull and in the other case before the lull. Neither eyewitness reported any sensation of change in pressure, having been questioned on that specific point. Both accounts indicated the absence of heavy rain accompanying the parent thunderstorm or the tornado, referring to the rain as "light".
Udall, Kansas, about 30 miles southeast of Wichita, underwent almost complete destruction from the tornado which struck about 2235 CST. Motorists were reported to have seen the tornado funnel approaching Udall. It struck the southwest corner of the town first, traveling almost due northeast with destruction occurring over the entire width of the town about three-fourths of a mile. The only habitable structure left in town was a frame dwelling with only minor damage on the extreme northwest edge of town. Except for a few other dwellings in the northwest corner of town which were twisted, moved, and badly damaged, the only building in town not completely leveled were a few two-story masonry buildings from which the upper story had been removed. There was evidence of rotation although it was confused somewhat by the pattern of lightweight debris, much of which indicated a southwest to northeast flow. It was common, for instance to see a large tree having fallen to the southwest, and a large piece of tin wrapped around a smaller nearby tree with its free edge pointing northeastward, obviously having been carried by a southwest wind. Destruction requiring immense forces however did yield indications of cyclonic rotation. A municipal water tower in the northwest part of town was toppled toward the southwest. The center of rotation passed across and almost right angles to a train of railroad cars on a railroad siding. The cars to the northwest of the center were blown off the tracks to the southwest and the cars between (over a distance of about 1 ½ city blocks) were still on the tracks.
Some evidence was found of "explosive" effects. A concrete block building about 30 feet by 40 feet had stood in the southwest part of town and was apparently near the path of the center of the tornado. All four walls had fallen outward, leaving the floor area relatively clear of debris.
Eyewitness accounts were not available from Udall until several days afterward because of understandable confusion and the shock that most survivors suffered. Mr. Wheeler Martin, a survivor from Udall, reported that there was a "roaring noise" at about 2220 CST followed by hail and rain. The wind was from the southwest and getting stronger. After a few minutes, the house began to shake. At 2235 CST it "collapsed." The hail continued for several minutes. Beyond Udall, the path of major destruction ended. Spotty damage extended for 18 miles east-northeast of Udall.
A carefully conducted survey of damage accomplished by Mr. Phillips revealed almost positive indications that at least from the time the tornado crossed U.S. Highway 166 and throughout its northward traverse through Udall, a continuous path of destruction was apparent. There was some "skipping" but the greatest skip was on the order of 3 1/2 miles. This evidence together with the radar evidence strongly suggests that this one storm had a continuous path for more then 50 miles.