Tornadoes pound Red Rock, Oklahoma and Kansas on April 26, 1991

TULSA - One of the worst tornado outbreaks ever in this part of the country occurred 20 years ago on this date.

On April 26, 1991, severe storms spouted 55 tornadoes in Tornado Alley, and Oklahoma and Kansas received the bulk of the damage.

The late Gary Shore, then Chief Meteorologist at KJRH-TV, storm chased one of the strongest tornadoes that day -- more on that in a minute.

On the 55 tornadoes that day, nine of them touched down in our local viewing area. Of those nine tornadoes, three of them carved paths in eastern Oklahoma and achieved rare F4 ratings:

  • The "Red Rock" tornado tracked 66 miles on the ground. The OU "Doppler on Wheels" measured wind speed near 260 mph as the violent tornado moved from Garfield county to Osage county.
  • Another F4 tornado killed one person at night near Keystone Lake. The tornado crossed Highway 412 near the Highway 64 exit. (Cleveland exit). The fatality occurred when the tornado crossed the highway, picked up a car and driver, tossed them into a tree. The tornado ended near Skiatook.
  • Another F4 tornado struck Green Country, nearly destroying Oologah High School. School buses were tossed into a creek about one mile away.
  • A separate deadly F2 tornado north of Bartlesville killed one person near Copan.

Storm chasing wasn't common in 1991, but on that historic day, Gary Shore "successfully" chased the Red Rock tornado.

He was joined by well-known storm chasers Warren Faidley, Gene Moore and Dr. Howard Bluestein from OU. In the 2NEWS videotape archives, you can watch Gary Shore standing about a mile south of the tornado. The inflow wind was so strong, that Gary's glasses were rearranged on his face! He caught them as they blew off while the huge tornado churned away at farmland behind him.

The deadliest and highest rated tornado of the event tore through Andover, Kansas near Wichita. The F5-rated tornado caused $62 million in damage at McConnell Air Force Base and killed 13 as the twister obliterated a mobile home park.

Behind the scenes at 2NEWS, our meteorologists are reminded everyday of April 26, 1991 as a mural of weather pictures hangs in our weather office.

Before writing this, I was looking at old pictures of Gary's. From his camera view, the Red Rock tornado was hugely scary looking -- a half-mile wide, violent tornado ripping into the ground. Dan, Julie, Andy and myself see these pics everyday thanks to Gary.
 

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