Earle “Duke” Evans was enjoying a long, hot shower after helping host a charity golf tournament at Terradyne Country Club when his assistant rushed into the locker room.
“There’s a huge tornado coming!” she shouted.
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Even though he was “buck naked” and soaking wet, Evans said, his first thought wasn’t seeking shelter. He had a new top-of-the-line video camera, and he wanted to see what it could do.
He threw on a pair of slacks, a shirt and his shoes, grabbed his Canon L1 digital camera and headed for the front doors of Terradyne. He could see the monstrous tornado off to the southwest early on the evening of April 26, 1991.
Leaning against one of the pillars that stand sentinel over the club’s entrance, Evans began shooting what would become one of the most iconic tornado videos on record.
The video, which lasts more than six minutes, vividly shows the destructive power of a tornado that had wind speeds reaching 260 miles an hour.
Terradyne’s entrance is elevated from the surrounding terrain. That vantage point proved crucial for the video, said Evans, who is now 78.
“I was up high enough that I got excellent sound out of it,” he said. “It sounded like a freight train.”
Evans, who studied meteorology at Oklahoma State University and was a meteorologist in the Army, remembered grainy, poorly shot videos from his days in the classroom. He alternated between shooting the entire structure of the tornado and zooming in for close-ups.
“You could see the little vortexes in the tornado, especially if you slow it down,” Evans said.
If the tornado came north of Kellogg toward Terradyne, Evans figured he would need 20 to 30 seconds get to the club’s basement shelter. But the tornado veered to the east, paralleling the Kansas Turnpike and sparing the country club.
Instead, it tore through a residential area before demolishing St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church and wiping away the Golden Spur mobile home park. Thirteen people died in the Golden Spur; hundreds more were injured.
It’s easy to see when the tornado hit the Golden Spur, Evans said. The amount of debris visible on the fringes of the tornado increases dramatically. At one point in the video, the tornado picks up an entire mobile home and flings it through the air.
He continued filming until large hail started pounding Andover, and he headed inside for shelter. At no time while he was shooting the video was he frightened, Evans said, because he knew how tornadoes moved.
He was in Topeka for a golf tournament when it was hit by a tornado in 1966.
“The houses popped like popcorn” when hit by that tornado, Evans said of 1966.
In 1991, color video of massive tornadoes was rare. Storm chasing didn’t become popular until after the movie “Twister” appeared in 1996 and “tornado tours” didn’t become an established industry until after the turn of the century.
As a result, interest in Evans’ video was high.
“I’ve sold this thing to National Geographic, the Weather Channel and gobs of other places,” he said.
Officials with the National Weather Service called it “the best one (video) they’d ever seen,” Evans said.
Even after 25 years, interest in the video remains steady. As Evans recently walked toward the pillars where he shot the famous footage a quarter of a century ago, a woman at the club smiled knowingly and asked him, “Telling the story of the video again?”
Ask Evans what he remembers most about that day, and after talking about the size of the tornado and how he filmed it, he offers one more detail: the tornado convinced him to propose to his longtime girlfriend.
She had been living with Evans’ ailing sister, helping to take care of her. After helping out in the makeshift medical tent in Andover that night, holding plasma bags for victims — two of whom died, he said — she started talking about new beginnings and getting a house in Wichita where she could run her own business.
Evans decided he wanted none of that.
“I’m not moving you twice,” he told her.
“Is that a proposal?” she asked.
Sharing the moment many years later, he said, “It isn’t under the Eiffel Tower, but it worked.”
They’ve been married now for just short of 25 years.