Terrible Tuesday: 42 years later

Updated: Apr. 10, 2021 at 11:07 PM CDT
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WICHITA FALLS, Texas (TNN) - April 10th, 1979, a day forever ingrained in the minds of those who lived through it. It’s the day an F-4 tornado ravaged the city of Wichita Falls.

More than 40 people were killed in the storm, over 1,000 injured, 3,000 plus homes destroyed.

“When I said it looks like a war zone, that is indeed what it looked like,” Kay Shannon, former KAUZ co-anchor, said.

Around 2:00 pm the National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for a large part of Texoma. Storm spotters were stationed around the city of Wichita Falls. Dale Cheek was set up at Memorial Stadium. Just after 6:00 pm, things turned for the worse. Spotters saw clouds begin to lower and develop into a funnel.

“Glen Whatley was there with me, we were parked beside each other and discussing what was going on,” Dale Cheek said.

Whatley, would be known as the first person to call in the tornado over his radio. Shortly after the tornado touched down, sirens rang out.

As the tornado moved east towards Memorial Stadium, Cheek got in his car and drove east on Southwest Parkway. Cheek recalls three police officers who were at the stadium that day who handcuffed themselves to the railings to not be blown away.

Just down the road near Southwest Parkway and Lawrence, 12-year-old Sadonna Rogers’ life was about to change. Rogers was planning to take a shower when her brother came running into the house frantically talking about incoming tornados. Rogers brushed it off. Together Rogers, her brother, and step mother thank went outside.

“All of a sudden people across the street start shouting and hollering take cover ‘it’s coming’ you know and all of a sudden all you can see is this huge black, I don’t know, cloud,” Rogers said. “I’d never noticed a cloud you know, I mean clouds are up here they are not down here.”

That cloud was an F-4 tornado headed directly for her.

Rogers took cover inside a neighbor’s house. She huddled down in an interior hallway as the tornado passed directly overhead.

“All of a sudden I remember looking up and I looked straight up and it’s blue skies and I’m thing what’s going on, and about that time the neighbor lady grabs me and shoves my head back down and says ‘It’s the eye, It’s the eye’,” Rogers said.

Her family home was completely destroyed, all except a small area around the bathroom where she was about to take a shower.

Everything in the twister’s path was turned to rubble.

“The landmarks were gone, you would lose your orientation of where you were, you knew where you were trying to get to and the things that you had seen all your life were no longer there,” Cheek said.

News stations were able to get the warning out as things turned for the worse.

Kay Shannon was anchoring the evening news that Tuesday.

“We had time to tell people it’s here, take cover now, and then we lost power,” Shannon said.

With no way to broadcast the news, Shannon and other Channel 6 news crews headed towards the damage. When she got the mall, where heavy damage was reported, an ambulance crew asked Shannon if she could help take injured to the hospital, she agreed to go, but was told they could only take the seriously injured.

“To have to leave those who were not seriously injured and have to leave the dead it was heartbreaking and the screams of the people in the ambulance as we had to jump curbs to get around the traffic, I will never forget it,” Shannon said.

National media picked up the reports Shannon made that day, which were the first pieces of information to come out about what had happened in the city.

In the days and weeks after the storm the city came together and began to rebuild.

“People helped each other, that’s what we had was each other and that’s what the neighbors did, they took each other in, they cried on each other’s shoulders, they were they to support each other, there was nobody else to help at that time,” Shannon said.

A storm of that magnitude hasn’t hit Texoma since 1979, over four decades later a tornado of that size could happen at any time. It is why everyone should have a safety plan made long before the sirens go off.

On Terrible Tuesday storm spotters like Dale Cheek played an integral part in the early warnings of that storm. Even now 42 years later, their work helps save lives whenever there is severe weather. Storm spotters and early warnings are often credited as one of the reasons more lives were not lost on April 10th.

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