50th Anniversary Topeka F-5 Tornado
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the one of the most destructive and deadly tornadoes in Kansas history. The massive 1966 Topeka tornado killed 17 people, injured over 500 and caused over $200 million damage; at the time, the highest in America history. With modern day inflation factored in, the tornado still ranks as one of the costliest on record, estimated near 1.8 Billion dollars.
Around 7pm, the tornado formed west of Auburn in southwest Shawnee county, and cut a 22 mile long path, at times a half a mile wide, across the heart of the city. Total devastation occurred along an 8 block section in the center of Topeka. Every building on the Washburn University campus was either destroyed or heavily damaged producing $10 million damage, alone. Citywide about 800 homes were completely destroyed with nearly 3000 damaged. Even the state Capitol dome sustained damage from the flying debris, as did many downtown buildings. The intense destruction classified the tornado as an F5, the top of the Fujita Intensity Scale, with winds estimated at over 250 mph.
The tornado moved to the northeast at 35 mph, but weakened after leaving the downtown area. The tornado finally dissipated just east of the Billard Airport on the city’s northeast side after being on the ground for about a half an hour. Power and utilities in many parts of the city were out for weeks, and hundreds were left homeless.
(Source: National Weather Service Topeka, KS)