Severe Weather in the Fall?
Spring time is typically synonymous with severe weather, especially across the central United States. However, severe weather season has a second peak during fall. In the Ozarks, a secondary peak in tornado frequency occurs from October through early December, as indicated by the chart below:
Tornado Touches Down...
On December 14, 1971, an upper level storm system moved out of the south central plains, triggering a line of severe thunderstorms from near Kansas City to Dallas, Texas. Large hail and damaging winds were reported with many of the storms, as well as a few tornadoes.
At that time, the National Weather Service office was located within the terminal building of the Springfield Airport. Radar support was provided by a weather office in Monett, using the WSR-57. There were two individuals on duty that night at the Springfield weather office, Henry Kyle and Robert Kerr.
Just before 11pm, law enforcement reported strong winds near Crane in Stone County. At 11:05 pm, The National Weather Service issued a severe thunderstorm warning for Cedar, Polk, Lawrence, Greene, Christian, Stone, and Taney counties. Meanwhile, local airport conditions in Springfield noted the beginning of a thunderstorm and rapidly falling pressure.
Shortly after, an airport employee who had been monitoring the Sherriff’s radio frequency told Mr. Kyle and Mr. Kerr that he heard a church had been destroyed in Republic. The office in Monett also contacted the Springfield office to advise that radar indicated a severe thunderstorm was headed for the western edge of Springfield.
Mr. Kyle attempted to contact the Springfield Police to request the warning system be activated, but before he could make contact, the storm struck the airport and knocked out all communications and power.
Moments before the storm passed over the terminal building, the wind gust recorder indicated wind speeds over 100 knots (115 mph). Mr. Kyle and Mr. Kerr took cover seconds before glass and other debris flew into the office. Springfield Daily News reports indicated the clocks on the walls of the Airport terminal stopped at 11:26 pm, the moment the tornado hit the building.
The tornado continued on the ground, moving northeastward into Dallas County, heavily damaging the junior high school in Buffalo.
The skipping path of the tornado extended 49 miles, moving across portions of Christian, Greene, and Dallas counties. The twister first touched down 1.5 miles south of Billings, before destroying a trailer park, and damaging a dozen homes and a factory in Republic. Two more trailers were destroyed in Springfield. A manufacturing plant near the Springfield Airport was damaged, as well as 35 planes and the terminal building.
One man was killed in Springfield, and 22 others were injured along the path. The damage was indicative of wind speeds from 113-157mph, or an F2 on the Fujita Scale.
Above: Black line indicates the path of the severe thunderstorm that produced the tornado. The dashed line in Barry and Stone counties represents sporadic tree damage, while the solid line from Christian County into Dallas County indicates nearly continuous tornado damage.
Above: Tornado damage in Republic.
Above: Black line indicates tornado path through Republic.
Above: A home on the west side of Springfield damaged by the storm.
Above: A west Springfield home damaged by the tornado, with the newspaper headline below indicating the time the clocks stopped at the Springfield Airport.
Deadly Tornadoes in December?
In more recent memory, deadly tornadoes struck the Missouri Ozarks on December 17 th-18 th, 2002. View NWS Springfield’s summary of that event at http://www.crh.noaa.gov/sgf/Events/2002/dec17_18/