Living with the odds in Tornado Alley: Your town could be hit once, then hit again

Dash cam video from Eureka shows the storm's intensity

Dash camera video from the Greenwood County Sheriff's Office shows the damage caused by Tuesday night's tornado in Eureka, Kansas as it happened.
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Dash camera video from the Greenwood County Sheriff's Office shows the damage caused by Tuesday night's tornado in Eureka, Kansas as it happened.

When they want a break from cleaning up after Tuesday night's tornado, residents of Eureka might want to consider buying a lottery ticket.

The Book of Odds once calculated the odds of being hit by a tornado were about 1 in 4.5 million, yet the Greenwood County seat, with a population of perhaps 2,500, has now been hit twice in three years.

"That has been the topic of a lot of conversation — how unusual this is," Greenwood County Emergency Management director Levi Vinson said. "No one has an answer" as to why it's happened.

Eureka residents are taking it in stride, he said, jokingly pointing to others and saying "It's your fault."

But they couldn't be blamed for wondering if Mother Nature is trying to wipe Eureka off the map, Vinson said.

A tornado tore up homes and a nursing center after sunset on July 7, 2016, but residents heeded advance warnings of potentially violent weather and took shelter. No serious injuries occurred.

That tornado touched down on the northwest corner of town and moved southeast through the center of town, lifting at the city limits. Tuesday's tornado formed on the southwest corner of town, moved through the center and lifted on the northeast corner.

"There's literally an X through the town," Vinson said. "Some of these poor residents have had their homes struck twice in the past two years."

A tornado caused widespread damage in the town of Eureka, Kansas on Tuesday night. A few injuries were reported from the storm. Drone footage the next day shows the damage from the air. (June 27, 2018)

Eureka has been hit so often by tornadoes — five times since 1950 — that the school mascot is the Tornadoes.

Records show hundreds of Kansas cities have been hit by tornadoes over the years. The Sunflower State is in the heart of Tornado Alley, after all. A couple — Greensburg and Udall — were essentially erased by tornadoes that struck after sunset.

Codell in northwest Kansas was struck three years in a row on the same day: May 20 on 1916, 1917 and 1918. After the third tornado, most residents simply packed up and left.

Wichita has been hit four times in the last 27 years: 1991, 1992, 1999 and 2012. The tornadoes in 1991 and 1999 struck Haysville before reaching Wichita.

Incredibly, J.D. and Jayme Nuss lost their house in Hodgeman County to a tornado twice in a decade: in 2007 and again in 2016.

Officials took media on a tour of Eureka, Kansas, on Wednesday, after it was hit by an EF-3 tornado Tuesday evening.

And then there's Daniel Wilson, whose house just east of Ensign was struck by tornadoes twice in the same year — in May and November of 2015.

The following May — to the day — Wilson said he stood in his front yard and watched a total of 17 tornadoes move within view of his house. One passed by less than two miles away.

"The one that was close was a perfect cylinder as high as you could see," Wilson said. "It was scary and beautiful all at the same time."

Wilson has lived at the house with his wife and now three children for 10 years, and had never seen a tornado until three years ago.

"Now we can't miss them," he said.

He's pretty sure there isn't a target on the roof of his house.

"We've had a new roof put on twice, but I might have to check again," he said.

There's no rhyme or reason behind why some locations get hit more than once, said Jeff Hutton, warning coordination meteorologist for the Dodge City branch of the National Weather Service, other than the fact Kansas has lots of tornadoes pretty much every year.

"It's random draw" as to where tornadoes develop, Hutton said.

"It does seem like it goes in cycles" for tornado hotspots in a given period, he said. "It kind of jumps around."

Records show numerous tornadoes have passed near Modoc in Scott County in recent years, though the postage stamp town has escaped a direct hit — so far.

But the few people who live in that little corner of the world aren't talking about moving to escape twisters, said Tim Stoecklein, Scott County's director of emergency management.

"They just shrug it off," Stoecklein said. "It’s part of living in western Kansas."