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Thread: 1966-06-08 Topeka KS Tornado

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    Default 1966-06-08 Topeka KS Tornado

    For being an F5 and hitting a capital city, this tornado seems to be under loved. I did a good amount of research on this day back in college, but mainly on a secondary tornado that hit Manhattan, KS the same day.

    The one thing I specifically remember is the old tall indian tale saying that because of Burnett's Mound, Topeka would be shielded from tornadoes from the southwest. Not the case, as the tornado actually hit Burnett's Mound before making a bee line directly into downtown Topeka.

    It seems as if people heeded the warning, as fatalities were minimal. I even believe the National Weather Service (weather bureau) in Topeka at Billard Airport took a hit by the tornado.

    I remember the infamous quote from Bill Kurtis, who was a reporter for WIBW-TV saying "For God's Sake, Take Cover" as the F5 missed the station to the south.

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    Yeah, that was a noted historical event for some time but the significance has slowly faded with time.

    The only real recollection I have is through the story of a great aunt who got caught outside. Although I don't recall many of the details, I do remember she told a great story that spooked us kids. One detail I do recall is she found herself literally running down the sidewalk in search of a shelter and had plate glass windows blowing out from shop storefronts just behind her path. Besides that, reading about the impact on Washburn College, its students and faculty, was really a lesson in persaverance.

    The legend of Burnett's Mound, and it's utter fallacy, should have proved instructive that old Indian legends like this were better off being ignored by the people of the plains. However, even years beyond this event, legends like this (eg. the protection provided by the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Big Arkansas rivers in Wichita) unfortunately persisted, passed on from elders to children.
    Mike Johnston

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    Member Jon Holder's Avatar
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    The Burnett's Mound legend had been proven to be BS well before 1966 as this wasn't the first tornado to hit town. A look a the records show there were several hits and near misses between 1950 and 1966.

    I've been told by several very credible sources that the Weather bureau at the time was asleep at the switch. Airmen working in the control tower at Forbes Air Force base provided warning to the bureau after watching it form West of Auburn but were ignored because the weather bureau employees didn't see it on radar.

    The official death toll was listed at 16, but one person later died several months later due to injuries as a result of the storm, which should have made the count 17. I also know of one woman who had a complete mental breakdown after being trapped in the rubble for 5 days who never recovered her faculties despite millions (in 1960's and 70's dollars) spent by her husband for mental health treatment at Menninger and other clinics with no success.

    The mark on Topeka is still there if you know what to look for. I used to work in a 14 story office building downtown, you could look off to the Southwest and see the difference in the trees in the path of the tornado. You can also tell by the new(er) construction of the buildings in the path as well. Once upon a time I heard an audio recording of the Topeka PD radio traffic at the time the tornado hit, a cop followed Rick Douglass down the mound and got caught up in the tornado with him and they had it all on tape. I'm trying to track down a copy of the tape but Topeka PD dispatch has gone through several reorganizations and it wouldn't surprise me if it was gone for good.

    Some trivia: The 1966 tornado formed about 4 miles West of Auburn, Kansas. The F4 tornado that struck Emporia, Ks in 1974 followed a parallel path along the turnpike and dissipated in the very same pasture that the 1966 tornado dropped down in.
    Last edited by Jon Holder; 04-20-2011 at 10:46 PM.

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    My wife was in Jr. High in Topeka in '66....and was at some kind of a school or church "play" practice. She said the tornado was probably at it's closest about 4 blocks from her. Talk about bad wx. luck, three years later she was living in Biloxi/Gulfport Miss. when Hurricane Camille roared ashore. She was in a home only about 7 blocks from the ocean. It was beyond belief that the home she was in wasn't obliterated....as she said that once they came outside...there were big ships pushed wayyy past their place onto shore. These two horrific instances really scarred her mind. Even when the wind blows around here...winds that are not associated with any storm..she'll start shaking. She won't sleep one wink at night if the wind is blowing. Poor thing. Not much I can do about it as her husband, either. All I can do is try to be by her side and talk her down.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mike Johnston View Post
    The legend of Burnett's Mound, and it's utter fallacy, should have proved instructive that old Indian legends like this were better off being ignored by the people of the plains. However, even years beyond this event, legends like this (eg. the protection provided by the confluence of the Little Arkansas and Big Arkansas rivers in Wichita) unfortunately persisted, passed on from elders to children.
    This is one of my favorite quotes and fits these situations well:

    Quote Originally Posted by Latka Gravis (Andy Kaufman) from the TV Show "Taxi"
    My uncle taught me the only things that separates us from the animals are superstition and pointless ritual.
    Last edited by Bobby Prentice; 05-28-2012 at 04:42 PM.
    "Your personal guide to convective nirvana"
    Robert (Bobby) A. Prentice, Meteorologist (Instructor) and storm chaser
    Norman, Oklahoma USA
    YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/RobertPrentice

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    Jon, that trivia about the Topeka '66 nader dissipating in the VERY SAME FIELD as the Emporia '74 nader is flat-out unreal. Wow! I wonder if the same farm family has lived there thru both episodes? It would sure make me squirrelly every time the sun went under a cloud if it was my place.
    That reminds me of fueling up my rental SUV during last year's chase season. I was in O'Neill Nebraska, and was talking to this really nicely dressed cowboy who was also standing there in the pump islands fueling up his truck. He saw the "Chase Team" magnetic stickers on the side of my vehicle and struck up a brief conversation. He told me he'd lived around there all his life, and spoke about "this one poor guy's farm house that has been "OBLITERATED" three separate times in the last 40 years by tornadoes"!!! Those were his exact words. From as near as I could tell from him....this would have been probably in far northern Boone Co. Nebraska, or perhaps near Bartlett, Nebraska.

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    I remember this tornado. We were in the basement of our Kansas City (Kansas side) home with our own tornado warning, although I've seen no documentation of a tornado or funnel in our area. We knew about the tornado moving through Topeka and somehow I thought that tornado was on its way to Kansas City. I should have looked at a map, but this is probably before I knew anything about typical tornado movement. That was a long time ago, but the fact that it hit Burnett's Mound has stayed with me all these years.
    Last edited by bookfan; 07-15-2013 at 12:20 PM.

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    Member Rick Schmidt's Avatar
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    I saw the rope stage of this tornado after coming up from the neighbor's basement. (I was 12). My father took the famous photos of the injured entering the hospital afterwards.(Rick Douglas and a young boy with his father). My dad was a photographer with the Capital-Journal. Also, one of my chase buddies, Doug Nelson, saw the early stages of the tornado southwest of town, from his home. He heard the roar, and I think he was a few hundred yards from it. His first F5, and he was 16!

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    The June, 1966, Topeka tornado was the first time the combined watch and warning system (as we think of them today) worked perfectly to save dozens or, maybe, hundreds of lives. The watch was out hours ahead, the warning was timely, and WIBW TV (then the dominant station for news in Topeka) had Bill Kurtis shouting, "For God's sake, take cover!" on the air.

    If you would like to learn more: http://www.amazon.com/Warnings-Story...pr_product_top

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    Rick, I've got an original copy of the Topeka Capital-Journal's special "Tornado" publication that came out shortly after the event. Maybe like many of you, I've got a big couple of boxes stashed away with "TORNADO STUFF" written on the side. Obviously, that's where all my tornado stuff that I think is worth saving gets stored. I really treasure this special publication, and I'm sure I remember your Dad's photo as being in there. I keep it nice and neatly folded in my Tornado box, and pull it out every now and again to marvel at it.

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