WICHITA COUNTY, TX (KAUZ) - One of the most significant outbreaks in Western North Texas and Southern Oklahoma history happened today.
It was 39 years ago on this day, Tuesday, April 10th, 1979, the Red River Valley Outbreak produced 30 tornadoes. There were three main supercells. The first starting just south of Crowell at 3:05 p.m. This storm produced the tornado that devastated southeast Vernon and the tornado that caused severe damage to the southern portion of Lawton. Overall 56 people died.
Terrible Tuesday started with a deepening low near southeast Colorado. A warm front pushed north out of Central Texas with a low forming over Childress. There was plenty of moisture behind the warm front and a dryline formed.
The result was 30 tornadoes, two F-4 tornadoes, and the one known all too well to Wichita Falls residents causing 400 million dollars in damage, destroying over 3,000 homes, 1000 apartments, 140 mobile homes, 2 schools, over 100 commercial businesses.
The third of the three supercells produced the Wichita Falls tornado. The storm formed north of Abilene, tracked northeast, had a right turn as it produced the violent tornado many remember too well. At 6 p.m. the radar showed a classic supercell with a hook echo. The storm was well documented from the formation as it moved out of rural Archer and Wichita County and headed for Memorial Stadium and McNeil Junior High.
It quickly grew into a massive wedge with a damage path more than a mile wide. Ben Milam Elementary School was damaged. Cars were blown all around at the mall. An example of why you do not want to be caught in a car during a tornado. As the tornado moved into Clay County it became multi vortexed and caused damage near Dean and Byers.
According to the National Severe Storms Laboratory report by Don Burgess, 20,000 residents were left homeless, about 20% of the population.Inflation-adjusted the almost 900 million dollar disaster is the 10th costliest U.S. tornado on record. More than 40 died. According to the report, many people who took shelter in an interior room, low to the ground with mattresses and pillows may have been injured but they survived. Only five fatalities recorded were from inside a home. Many of the casualties came to those in cars.
The damage path of the Wichita Falls tornado was more than a mile wide and at the time was one of the biggest Ted Fujita said he had ever seen. We still look back on Terrible Tuesday for research. Damage from the Wichita Falls tornado was used to improve building construction and storm shelters.