Kansas history has recorded many devastating tornadoes, but the most deadly happened May 25, 1955, when an F5 tornado hit the town of Udall, killing 80 and injuring more than 200.
The region had endured three days of storms, including a damaging tornado in Blackwell, Oklahoma that killed 20. But the worst of these hit Udall at around 10:30 p.m.
There had been multiple warnings for severe weather that day, but before the storm hit Udall, the forecasters on the 10 p.m. news gave the all clear.
The storm wiped out the entire southern part of the community. The northern half sustained serious damage. The bank, post office and one business remained but 192 buildings and 170 homes were wiped away. The storm killed nearly 20 percent of the town’s population of around 600.
A newspaper article written after the storm recounted some of the horrors of that night, recounting what resident Lester Sweet said about the incident: “‘We’re in for it,’ he yelled to the wife pushing her and the children under the bed. ‘We could hardly breathe with the vacuum and the dust,’ he said later. ‘It was like being in an echo box with everybody yelling so loud you couldn’t here.'”
Drivers reported that they saw the tornado approaching Udall, lit up by frequent lightning strikes. Many witnesses reported extreme amounts of lightning with the storm system.
One survivor reported hearing a roaring noise around 10:20 p.m. followed by hail and rain when much of the house collapsed.
After surveying the damage and radar, the tornado was determined to have been on the ground for more than 50 miles. After Udall, spotty damage extended for 18 miles.