Wichita Falls Texas Tornado – April 10th, 1979-
A deadly Anniversary Coinciding with a Tornado Threat Today
Today marks the 37th Anniversary of the Wichita Falls Texas Tornado also known as the ‘Terrible Tuesday’ or ‘Red River Valley Tornado Outbreak’. On April 10th, 1979, nearly 30 tornadoes tore a swath of destruction in Northwest Texas and Southwest Oklahoma killing 54 people. The hardest hit city was Wichita Falls, Texas, where a total of 42 people lost their lives when an F4 tornado slammed through town. The ‘Terrible Tuesday’ Outbreak also struck Vernon, Texas, and Lawton, OK.
There is also a severe weather threat today (including a possibility of tornadoes) in and around the same area affected 37 years ago. Anyone living in Wichita Falls. Texas on April 10th, 1979 might feel a bit sadly reminiscent as the skies darken today.
Wichita Falls Texas Tornado
Below is a photograph of the April 10th, 1979 Wichita Falls Texas Tornado:
Here, the damage paths from the ‘Red River Valley Tornado Outbreak’ / ‘Terrible Tuesday’ Outbreak have been mapped out by PhD Ted Fujita and PhD Rodger Wakimoto:
Here is an excellent write up about the Wichita Falls Texas Tornado and Red River Valley Tornado Outbreak written by Don Burgess, NSSL; and a link to the Violent Tornado Webpage for further analysis of the event:
Today’s Severe Weather Threat:
The SPC (Storm Prediction Center) has issued an Enhanced Risk of severe weather – hail being the primary threat given the lapse rates and CAPE- (with the possibility of tornadoes today for parts of SW and Central Oklahoma and NW Texas – including towns hit by the 1979 ‘Terrible Tuesday’ Tornado Outbreak: Wichita Falls, Texas Vernon & Seymour, Texas and Lawton, Oklahoma)
Here’s the current look at SPC Mesoanalysis. 3000 j/kg SBCAPE is already being analyzed in NW Texas. High amounts of CAPE (greater instability- can lend itself to more sustained updrafts, ‘vertical stretching’ – a mechanism for tornadogenesis- and a likelihood for large hail). There is ample CAPE today. However there is ongoing convection in an otherwise capped environment near Lubbock, Texas. It will be interesting to see whether or not something intensifies out of that ongoing convection or whether it will move NE out of the way by this evening (allowing for greater instability). If the convection lingers and doesn’t intensify, the severe weather potential may be dampened and the tornado threat could be limited. We shall see.
High Resolution model runs such as the HRRR, keep showing an isolated supercell evolving somewhere between Chickasaw, Oklahoma and Wichita Falls, Texas later this evening as shear improves with the LLJ (low level jet). The 4km NAM shows a beast supercell near Hollis, Oklahoma after dark.
Unlike 37 years ago with the Red River Valley Tornado outbreak, today’s surface low pressure has not really become very organized yet. If it does organize better later this afternoon/ evening (as some model runs have indicated) then there will be more backing of surface winds (surface winds becoming southeasterly/ easterly) which could aid in tornado production. [Backing surface winds lends to tornado production when it is perpendicular to the flow aloft- today that would be the case as the upper level winds are from the West/South West]:
Current surface observations show great dew points in NW Texas/ SW Oklahoma (upper 50s to near 60 degrees F). It also shows that the surface low pressure hasn’t become very organized at this point. If it does organize later this afternoon, expect to see wind barbs along the Red River turn more Southeasterly.
Here’s the forecast sounding from the 4KM NAM near Hollis, Oklahoma for 10pm central today. As the LLJ intensifies, low level shear and storm relative helicity improve meaning a greater tornado potential:
Today/tonight looks interesting for severe weather and possible tornadoes.
*Reminder: a Tornado Watch means conditions are favorable for tornadoes to form, Tornado Warning means a tornado is occurring and to seek shelter immediately. Will there be tornadoes and severe weather in the same area today/tonight as there was 37 years ago?
Stay tuned & keep an eye on the weather!
– Lauren Forney
WAS*IS (Weather & Society Integrated Studies), NWA, VORTEX 2