KSN recounts the Haysville tornado 20 years later

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HAYSVILLE, Kan. (KSNW) – It has been 20 years since a deadly tornado tore through Haysville and south Wichita.

KSN Chief Meteorologist Lisa Teachman takes us back to May 3, 1999 and looks at how her hometown has recovered.

The F4 tornado tore right the heart of the town. The day started out as a perfect day for severe weather. 

RELATED LINK | National Weather Service Haysville tornado

“It was one of those perfect set ups,” said Chance Hayes, National Weather Service. 

“Everything came together that day for an outbreak across the plains,” said Paul Howerton, National Weather Service. 

The atmosphere was locked and loaded with energy and plenty of power.

“It was like lighting a fuse to it and pow!” said Hayes.

“We knew it was going to be bad that night,” said Tim Norton, former Haysville mayor. “I told Susan get down in the basement. I’ll be there in a little while, but it’s looking pretty bad.”

“First warning I issued was for 7:38 for a warning in Sumner County where the first tornado touched down near Mayfield,” said Hayes. “It started moving due north of Wellington, and it was bigger and moving across the county line and closer to Clearwater and closer to Haysville.”

“It got to the railroad tracks, and everybody said it’s going due north,” said Norton. “That’s not how they track.They track from the southwest to the northeast, and it didn’t. Came straight north up the railroad tracks.”

Around 8:35 p.m. the tornado hit. 

“The phone rang. I grabbed the phone. It was the dispatcher,” said Norton. “The first thing I heard was the Total station is gone. She started crying and couldn’t talk to me after that.”

When Norton arrived in town, it was pitch black.  

“You could hear hissing. I realized quick we had a big mess on our hands.”

The historic part of town, including the Blacksmith Shop, Haysville State Bank, Blaine Lumber Company and Norland Plastics across Grand took a direct hit. 

“Along Baughman was just totally wiped out. That was all old residential. They didn’t have basements. I was afraid we lost people over there.”

The tornado claimed six lives outside of town. One hundred fifty homes were damaged along with 27 businesses.  The stories of survival are unimaginable.

“There was a father and his three kids who jumped in a bathtub with a mattress over their heads. That was the only thing left of the house. The bathtub,” said Norton.

The tornado ranked as an F-4 with winds estimated between 207 to 260 mph.

“I had another couple that hung on to an old refrigerator. The only thing left was the wall behind the wall and the fridge, and they were like 80. So, scary, scary stories. They survived by some miracle,” said Norton.

Recovery went quickly.

“We were very fortunate because of the volunteers who came to town.”

Putting the pieces of a quiet town together took a couple of years.  

Now, you look at Haysville 20 years later, it looks so different, but so the same.  

“We don’t ever want to lose that small town feel.  That is the reason I moved here. A place for my kids to ride their bikes. We’ve still got it here.”

In the years since the tornado, a beautiful town square has been built next to a new library.   

That town square is a symbol of a strong community.  A place that brings Haysville together in good times and bad.  

  National Weather Service radar from May 3, 1999 


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