40th Anniversary of the Garden City Tornado



  Jonathan Finch


Jesse Lee


On June 23rd 1967, a family of tornadoes hit Garden City and the surrounding area around 845 pm CDT.  The sky was clear earlier in the day before thunderstorms developed west and northwest of the city late in the afternoon.  The storms originated in southeastern Greeley and northeastern Hamilton counties.  The tornado or tornadoes began about 12 miles north of Lakin, moved southeast and passed through Garden City devastating the northern part of the city.  There were reports of at least six tornadoes in or around the city according to some witnesses.  The Kansas State University’s Branch Experiment Station was heavily damaged as most outbuildings were lost.  The tornado track ended about 7 miles north of Ingalls in  Gray county.  At least 30 people were injured and one was killed.  Losses in Garden City totaled around 4 million dollars and rural losses were around 1 million dollars.


Tornadoes are most common in western Kansas from April to June. The Garden City tornado occurred at the tail end of tornado season. Typically the upper level jet stream retreats northward to the northern plains by late June. But in 1967, an unusually strong storm system was located over the Rockies on June 23rd.  This map shows the paths of all the tornadoes on June 23.  Another late-season tornado struck Wakeeney late at night on June 27, 1953,killing 7 people.
June 1967 was a very active tornado month from Texas north into Minnesota, with tornadoes occurring on 20 out of 30 days. A climatology for tornadoes and hail for southwest Kansas can be found here. This chart gives the number of days from 1950 to 1999 with significant tornadoes and golfball size or larger hail for parts of central and southwest Kansas including the towns of Hays, Medicine Lodge, Pratt,  Greensburg, Dodge City, Garden City, Liberal, Elkhart and Syracuse. Notice the peak in tornado days in May and June and the sharp drop-off in early-July.


Meteorological Setting:

The 12 UTC(6 am CST) 500mb chart showed a deep upper-level storm system over Nevada. The 15 UTC(9 am CST) surface chart showed an  outflow boundary from a nocturnal storm cluster from the Texas Panhandle to north Texas. Surface temperatures were cooler north of this boundary but dewpoint temperatures were still high. By 20 UTC (2 pm CST) the the outflow boundary was lifing back to the north. Dewpoint temperatures were extremely high immediately north of the boundary with 73F at Gage and 67F at Garden City. So very humid air was flowing upslope across the central plains just north of the surface boundary. A warm front stretched from southeast Colorado into northern Kansas. A dryline, a boundary separating dry air to the west from moist air to the east, stretched from eastern New Mexico into southeast Colorado.


By 22 UTC (4 pm CST), the outflow boundary was even further north and extended from north of Gage, OK to south of Garden City. The dewpoint temperature was up to 70F at Garden City. This is extremely high by western Kansas standards. In other words, it doesn’t get much more muggy than this in Garden City.


The 00 UTC (6 pm CST) 500mb chart showed the deep storm system over northern Wyoming and southern Montana. The high level jet (200mb) stretched from eastern Utah to eastern Nebraska.  The 00 UTC 700mb chart showed a very warm plume of air across the southern high plains. A thunderstorm developed near the northern edge of this hot plume near the Colorado-Kansas border and moved east and southeast through Greeley, Hamilton, Wichita, Kearny, Finney, Gray and Ford counties. Several tornadoes were reported with this storm. The most damaging tornado hit the northern edge of Garden City causing extensive damage. The surface observations from the Garden City airport are shown here.


The 00 UTC (6 pm CST) upper air sounding from Dodge City was modified using the surface conditions from Garden City prior to the tornado. The surface based CAPE was about 4500 j/kg. Note how the winds were from the east to southeast near the surface and from the southwest at mid and high levels. Thus, vertical wind shear and instability were favorable for tornadoes.


The 01 UTC (7pm CST) surface chart showed a whopping 71F surface dewpoint at Garden City with surface winds from the east-southeast. This was about 45 minutes before the destructive tornado hit the north side of Garden City. These are ideal conditions for tornadoes.



Here are some pictures of the tornado damage courtesy of the Garden City Telegram:
Click on image to get a full size image.








From Jeff Hutton, Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the Dodge City NWS office:

This day is etched in my mind, even though I was only 7 years old at the time.  I cannot remember the events leading up to the event, but what happened once warnings were issued forever changed my life!   Living outside the city limits of northwest Dodge City, I seemed to always "notice" weather phenomenon (snow, rain, lightning etc,) but that was about it...again I was only 7.  A local radio station (KGNO - AM) was always a good source for weather information and seemed to always be on at my house.

During the evening on June 23, 1967, I remember the announcer on the radio mentioning a tornado warning for Finney County, but what really caught my attention is when he said a tornado in Garden City was moving east-southeast towards Dodge City.   I ventured outside to the swing set and gazed to the northwest.  It was very, very dark and I could tell there was a “bad” storm.  Garden City is only 50 miles away but in 1967 there were not any homes or trees to the northwest to obstruct my view.  I did not see anything other than a dark mass.

Even though I never did see the Garden City tornado, it was fascinating enough that I immediately got out the World Encyclopedia and studied its content about tornadoes.  It was that day in June 1967 that I chose to become a Meteorologist as an adult.  I never did falter on that goal and it’s a position that I’ve professionally held since graduating from the University of Oklahoma in 1983.

From Kenneth York, Healy KS:

This is an excerpt from my Grandmothers’ book, "We Watts of Forrest Valley", by Beulah K. Watt.                                                                                                  

    In June of 1967, I took my turn at being ill.  In one year, I underwent surgery three times for stones in my gall duct and liver.  I wore a tube in my side for four months before the last surgery. 

    This was where I got acquainted with the reality of being in a tornado.  My first night in the hospital, as I lay enjoying my evening meal (what little I could have before tests on the morrow).  My TV announced that Garden City was in line for a tornado and it was traveling fast.  Soon I noticed that the nurses were running--the lights began flickering and it was getting dark!  In my hand I held eleven white pills which I had been told to take every half hour before bedtime.  Just then, two nurses rushed in--grabbed my feet and set me up.  They were trembling so hard that they could hardly talk as they said "We must get all patients who can sit on a chair into the hallway.  A tornado is coming!"  Somehow, I was not frightened.  When you know there is no way but straight through, you can only say "God, we know you can do all things.  Thy will be done."

    Well, we who could, sat in that dim hall. Those who couldn’t sit were rolled from their rooms in their beds.  I wasn’t at all concerned.  Once, one of my white pills rolled down the hall. The hospital staff was rushing madly, setting up cots for as many as 70 expected casualties. But people had a few precious moments to take cover and with all the damage throughout the city, only one death resulted and not many were hurt. There wasn’t even a scratch on the hospital.  Such was my first tornado experience, and, I hope my last! 



From Eric Schiffelbein:

The tornado of 1967 was quite an event for Garden City. I was 9 years old at the time and  can remember there was a tornado watch issued late in the morning and the weather was breezy and very humid. Conventional wisdom at the time, was that the storms always came out of the southwest. This storm formed somewhere in NW Finney county, and came in from the northwest. Near as I can remember there were as many as 9 funnels around the Garden City area. The worst damage was up in the northeast area of town where there were some homes completely destroyed. My home escaped relatively unscathed although I’m sure one of the funnels hopped right over our property. There were cinderblock fences on either side of our property and they were layed over in our yard and out in the alley. Also about two houses north of us was a redwood fence - we had a small piece of redwood forced through the frame of our back storm door and then back out through the brickmould. We left it there as a conversation piece. I can remember watching sheets of plywood stacked outside from the new church being built across from our house blowing in the air like cardboard. Looking back now, I would say the storm was a strong F2 - maybe briefly an F3. Exactly one week later, we had a bad hailstorm that blew in from the same direction.  I would be interested if you could email me a weather map (if it is available) of the weather pattern set-up of that day. Since that day, I have been fascinated with tornadoes and severe weather, and have chased a few and shot some stills of them.



From Jenni Bond:

My grandparents were there, but they won’t touch a computer, so here’s their stories as they told them to me. 


"The kids and I were in the car, we were headed out to the Moose lodge to play bingo.  It started raining before we got there, and I remembered I had clothes on the line, so I turned the car around and went back home to take the clothes down.  I had just gotten the kids in the house when the sirens started going off.  I was going to take the kids to the neighbors’ house and get in their basement, but then it started hailing.  I grabbed the kids and we got under the table.  I don’t remember hearing the train sound of a tornado, just the hail hitting the house and the sound of the roofs being torn up.  It was a mess afterward."


Bev Tabor


"I was at work when it hit.  I had just finished roughing in the plumbing on a new house that was being built.  After the tornado, that house wasn’t there anymore- just the slab under it."



The Garden City Telegram

Jeff Hutton (warning coordination meteorologist) - helped with scanning newspaper articles

Ray Burgert (lead forecaster) - provided support for web page editing




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