Finger on the Weather

Greenwood County tornado nearly reached uncharted territory for Kansas

Emergency management director describes Eureka tornado

Greenwood County Emergency Management Director Levi Vinson talks about the powerful tornado that ripped through Eureka July 7, 2016 (Bryan Horwath/Wichita Eagle).
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Greenwood County Emergency Management Director Levi Vinson talks about the powerful tornado that ripped through Eureka July 7, 2016 (Bryan Horwath/Wichita Eagle).

A tornado that touched down in Greenwood County on Thursday night was nearly a Kansas first.

For a state in the heart of Tornado Alley, that’s saying something.

The tornado, one of three to form in Greenwood County on July 7, touched down at 9:25 p.m. and rapidly grew to more than 3/4 of a mile wide. At one point, the tornado became “almost stationary” as it struck a small house in the northwest corner of the county, according to the National Weather Service.

Greenwood County Emergency Management Director Levi Vinson talks about the powerful tornado that ripped through Eureka July 7, 2016 (Bryan Horwath/Wichita Eagle).

By the time the tornado moved on, only the floor was left in the home. A damage survey team rated the tornado an EF3 on the Enhanced Fujita scale, with top winds of 165 mph.

Any stronger, and Thursday’s tornado would have been an EF4.

“There has not been any tornado bigger than an EF3 in Kansas in July,” said Eric Metzger, a meteorologist for the weather service in Wichita. “That would have been the first.”

Eureka was hit by a tornado on Thursday, and one woman could not stop searching through the rubble to find the last memory of her son. (By Oliver Morrison/The Wichita Eagle)

July EF3 tornadoes in Kansas are rare. Thursday’s was the second in two years, weather officials say, with an EF3 twister that touched down in Reno County on July 13, 2015. Before that, the last one was in 1958.

There have been only five EF3 tornadoes recorded in July in Kansas since 1950, according to the National Weather Service.

A subsequent tornado that formed from the same supercell struck Eureka later Thursday night, damaging more than 140 structures. Remarkably, there were no deaths or injuries as a result of the tornado, which was rated an EF2 with maximum winds of 135 mph.

While the earlier EF3 tornado swept away all four walls of the house, Metzger said telltale signs of an EF4 tornado were missing.

“Usually, an EF4 will start removing the floorboards,” he said.

The floor of the house in Greenwood County was intact. An EF4 tornado would also debark or knock over trees, he said. Trees next to the house were stripped of leaves but not bark.

No one was home at the time the tornado struck. Agency officials said someone had made an offer on the house and was given the opportunity to spend the night there, but declined.

Toby Hennessey rented a trailer across from the Eureka Nursing Center. He was with his girlfriend last night, and came to town this morning to find his trailer in shambles. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)

Eureka resident Dawn Knox describes the events of Thursday night, when her mother's house was hit by a tornado. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)

U.S. Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., visits Eureka in the wake of a tornado that damaged 92 structures in town late Thursday. (Matt Riedl/The Wichita Eagle)

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