I noticed it the moment I stepped outside.
The air felt funny. Unsettled. A quixotic combination of hot and cool, with humidity clinging to me as I walked to my car.
It told me trouble was looming. I drove to the office and urged co-workers to finish their stories as soon as possible, because severe weather was likely later in the day. Some may have heeded my advice. Others probably rolled their eyes and went on with their day.
But forecasters had been warning of the potential for severe weather on that Friday – and the conditions that morning told me they were right.
The tornado that touched down just before 6 p.m. two miles south-southeast of Clearwater wasn’t the first of the day, but it was the worst. It was on the ground for more than an hour, grew to EF5 in intensity – the highest rating on the Fujita Scale – was up to a half-mile wide and traveled 46 miles. Haysville, south Wichita, McConnell Air Force Base and Andover were hit, along with houses in unincorporated areas.
The tornado killed 17 people – 13 of them in the Golden Spur Mobile Home Park in Andover – and injured 225.
This footage is some of the most iconic of the tornado, shot from Terradyne Country Club.
I joined a few co-workers on the south side of the Eagle building, watching the tornado move through south Wichita. It was almost entirely obscured by rain, so it was difficult for us to tell how much damage it was doing. Within minutes, however, I was heading to Broadway and 55th Street South, where a mobile home park had been leveled. I called my initial story in from a pay phone at a heavily damaged convenience store.
Hospitals bracing for injured victims from Haysville and south Wichita wondered why so many wounded were coming from Butler County. It took a while for word to filter in that Andover had been hammered as well.
Here is another video of the Andover tornado, shot from a house on 2nd Street in Andover and first shown only three years ago. The tornado appeared destined to wipe out the heart of Andover before veering to the right. It stayed south of Central for most of its trek, sparing most of the city.
The tornado nonetheless caused an estimated $300 million in damage, including $62 million at McConnell. It was one of 55 tornadoes to touch down that day. A second F5 tornado that raked north-central Oklahoma that day was even more violent than the Haysville-Wichita-Andover tornado. Known as the Red Rock Tornado, it traveled 66 miles and was nearly 1 mile wide. The tornado was so strong it scoured pavement off a highway.
A portable Doppler radar measured 257 to 268 MPH winds inside the vortex. At the time, they were the strongest winds ever measured on Earth.