April 10th, 34 years ago, three massive tornadoes ripped through Texoma. The twisters killed 56 people, injured more than 1,000 and destroyed hundreds of businesses and homes.
The 1979 disaster known as "Terrible Tuesday", brings a sense of mourning and remembrance every year to residents of the impacted cities, including the hardest hit Lawton, Oklahoma, Vernon, Texas, and Wichita Falls, Texas.
Witnesses say nothing about the weather that day seemed out of the ordinary, until that afternoon when an intense storm system across southeastern Colorado carried warm, moist air northward into the Red River Valley. By then, a new storm developed near Childress and raced northeastward, quickly erupting into three large, long-tracked, violent tornadoes.
Around 3:55 p.m., the first of three large supercell storms developed south of Vernon, producing an EF4 tornado with winds over 150mph. It killed eleven people and caused millions of dollars in damage. That same tornado moved northward into Oklahoma, killing three people in Lawton around 5 p.m..
A second powerful supercell storm produced an EF2 tornado, with winds more than 100mph, that stayed on the ground for 60 miles. This storm caused the least amount of destruction because it mainly stayed over open farm land. It did, however, swipe Harrold, Texas and Grandfield, Oklahoma causing destruction.
The third tornado was the deadliest, coming to life in Baylor county, where it struck Seymour, Texas, and moved into Wichita Falls. The EF4 tornado first struck Memorial Stadium, then moved up Southwest Parkway, with Sikes Senter Mall next in line. The tornado proceeded northeastward eventually crossing Jacksboro Highway before moving out of the city leaving 41 people dead. Most of the people killed were in their cars, trying to escape the cataclysmic 170mph winds. The tornado was nearly a mile wide, making this one of the largest tornadoes ever recorded.
Survivors and families and friends of those lost in the disaster, are paying tribute to the tragic event.
One survivor, and hero was Mark Wilson, an emergency manager for the City of Wichita Falls during the tornado outbreak. Researchers have said without the policies he oversaw, the death toll could have been more than 2,000. Newschannel 6 interviewed friends and colleagues who worked along side Wilson. He died in a car accident December 2010.
Newschannel 6's Lindsey Forst interviewed last year members of The Leadership Wichita Falls class of 2009. They put together a book called, "47 Miles: Stories of Loss Unity and Rebirth." It's a compilation of firsthand experiences from those who survived the wreckage. It's proceeds go to area disaster response and relief organizations. They're goal is to raise $200,000. You can find more information on their website.
We did a 30 minute special on "Terrible Tuesday" which was featured on our Inside Texoma. There we took an in depth look into that day in the life of some survivors, including a Rider High School teacher who was forced to outrun the tornado with his family in his pick-up truck.
People are also sharing their stories and their loved ones' stories on our Newschannel 6 Facebook page. We welcome you to share your own experiences or those who are no longer here to speak for themselves.
When there's severe weather in your neighborhood, our Newschannel 6 weather team is looking out for you. Head to their severe weather guide for their advice about what to do to protect yourself and your family.