Monday marks 30 years since deadly Andover tornado

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WICHITA, Kan. (KSNW) — The storm that hit on April 26, 1991, is most known for devastating the community of Andover. But the F5 twister also hit parts of Wichita, Haysville, McConnell Air Force Base, and other parts of south-central Kansas.

The National Weather Service had warned that it was setting up to be a very active day. Early that morning, severe storms started in Oklahoma, and by mid-afternoon, tornadoes were being reported from Texas to Nebraska.

Of the more than 50 tornadoes reported that day, 30 were rated an F2 or greater. But the most devastating tornado was the one that hit Andover and south-central Kansas. In south-central Kansas, 19 people died and 298 people were injured in the storms that day. In Andover, 13 people died at the Golden Spur Mobile Home Park, four died in the Greenwich Heights subdivision of southeast Wichita, one died in Cowley County, and another in Elk County. Two people died in tornadoes in Oklahoma.

The storm hit the Andover area around 6:40 p.m. but had first been reported on the ground nearly an hour earlier near Clearwater. When it finally lifted after being on the ground for 46 miles, it was near El Dorado.

Haysville was hit around 6:20 p.m. when the tornado was a strong F2 and then it strengthened. The tornado was still an F3 when it struck McConnell Air Force Base four minutes later. It destroyed 102 base housing units and nine major facilities, including the base hospital. In all, 16 people were injured on base. The tornado narrowly missed 10 B1-B bombers that were lined up. Two of them had nuclear warheads on them.

The storm continued to gain strength as it hit the Greenwich Heights subdivision in the area near Pawnee and Webb, leveling several well-built homes, and strengthening to an F4 as it continued toward Andover. At its largest, it was three-quarters of a mile wide.

From there, the tornado continued to track to the northeast. It began to move into Andover at 6:43 p.m. and intensified to an F5. The town suffered the biggest loss of life that night.

“It seemed like there was no way out that night, that death was going to take me, because that tornado was so big,” said Joe Parsley, who survived the tornado. He spoke with KSN on the 20th anniversary of the storm.

Parsley was living in the Golden Spur Mobile Home Park in Andover. It took a direct hit. 

Police dash camera video from that day shows an officer driving through the park, sounding his siren to warn residents to get to a shelter. In the end, 149 people heeded the warning and took shelter before the storm hit. Of the 38 residents who did not get to shelter, 13 died.

Parsley was one of those who did not make it to the shelter. When he saw how close the tornado was, he crawled under his truck and held on.

“Something big hit the back of my pick-up. Then it went airborne, and I’m being sucked and rolled underneath it, and it’s doing quite a number on me,” said Parsley.

He was pinned under the transmission for about 45 minutes before being rescued. He spent more than three months in the hospital with a shattered pelvis and other internal injuries.

The storm system caused $272 million in damages across Kansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

KSN will have more coverage of the 30th anniversary of the deadly storm tonight on KSN News at 5, 6 and 10.

April 26, 1991 Tornadoes Rated F3 or Greater

Time

Path

Fujita Rating

Path Length (Miles)

Path Width (Yards)

3:50 pm – 4:40 pm3 SE Hollenberg, KS to SE Beatrice, NE

F3

24

200

5:15 pm – 5:40 pm2 NW Douglas, NE to 7 NE Palmyra, NE

F3

14

350

5:57 pm – 7:10 pm2 SSE Clearwater, KS to 5 N El Dorado, KS

F5

69

500

6:00 pm – 6:09 pm6 E Enid, OK to 4 W Garber, OK

F3

6

350

6:30 pm – 7:55 pm3 E Garber, OK to 9 WNW Pawhuska, OK

F4

66

1,000

6:30 pm – ?5 W Arkansas City, KS to 3 NW Burden, KS

F4

25

500

7:11 pm – 7:16 pm1 SW Mount Selman, TX to 1 NE Mount Selman, TX

F3

3

200

7:26 pm – ?7 W Howard, KS to 2 W Severy, KS

F3

24

200

8:00 pm – 8:17 pmDenison, IA to near Wall Lake, IA

F3

23

200

8:10 pm – 9:27 pm2 WSW Terlton, OK to 1 NNW Skiatook, OK

F4

32

800

8:35 pm – ?5 S Neal, KS to 8 N Toronto, KS

F3

15

50

9:45 pm – 9:53 pm1 W Oologah, OK to Oologah Lake

F4

4

1,000

(National Weather Service Data)

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