FYA: This Tornado was one of many that struck during the Red River Valley Tornado outbreak of the 10th April 1979…
…We will be producing a separate article on this outbreak in due course. You can find more out on the Wichita Falls, Texas (TX) storm itself here.
The F4/EF-4 Tornado that struck Wichita Falls, TX formed several miles southwest of the city in Archer County, travelling over mostly open land.
When the Tornado turned east-northeast, it entered Wichita County – damaging a handful of rural homes, string of high voltage towers.
Moving into the city of Wichita Falls, the Tornado first struck Memorial Stadium and McNiel Junior High School, severely damaging both buildings (#1 on the damage path diagram below).
The Tornado’s formation and its movement towards the stadium and high school was captured on camera by Wolfgang Lange from the front of his apartment complex (#2 on the damage path diagram) – see in the photos below.
After capturing the last photo of the Tornado, Lange retreated to the complex’s laundry room and hid between heavy commercial washers and dryers. Luckily, he only suffered minor injuries.
Northeast of Lange’s apartment complex, on the first street of houses, a man by the name of Robert Molet also captured the Tornado on camera as it approached (#3 on the damage path diagram) – see in the photos below.
Unlike Lange’s view, as you can see in the above photos, Molet did not have an unhindered view of the Tornado – did not immediately recognise the F4/EF-4 wedge.
Molet stood in his backyard driveway and captured the destruction of the above mentioned apartment complex and the beginning of his neighbourhood being destroyed.
Molet carried on taking photos until the wind blew him into his garage. Although, his house was completely destroyed, Molet escaped with only minor injuries – protecting him from the worst of the winds and debris.
The first deaths caused by Tornado were recorded at the already mentioned apartment complex and adjoining housing area.
Continuing east-northeast, the Tornado severely damaged commercial buildings along Southwest Parkway, including total devastation of the Southwest National Bank Building except its vault (#4 on the damage path diagram).
North of Southwest Parkway, the F4/EF-4 wedge destroyed many homes in the Western Hills (DR). Further eastward, many houses in the Faith Village were destroyed, Ben Milam Elementary School was severely damaged (#6 on the damage path diagram).
The Tornado was captured on camera from the south of the city by Pat Blacklock – see in the photos below (#5 on the damage path diagram).
As you can see in the last few photos above, the gust front/strong west winds to the south of the Tornado can be seen producing waves on Lake Wichita – kicking up spray from the lake.
As the F4/EF-4 wedge crossed Kemp Boulevard, a number of commercial business were destroyed – resulting in several deaths. The Tornado’s most destructive winds missed the Sikes Senter Shopping Mall to the south, but a handful of stores were damaged.
Beyond the above mentioned shopping mall, the Tornado crossed a greenbelt area, “skirted” Midwestern State University on the south side – severely damaging more housing additions.
From the Ligon Coliseum of the University, Professor Joe Henderson captured the Tornado on camera (#7 on the damage path diagram) – see in the photos below.
The F4/EF-4 wedge was also captured on camera by Troy Glover from the roof of the Bethania hospital (#8 on the damage path diagram) – see in the photo below.
A number of people tried to outrun the Tornado as it crossed the south side of the city by getting in vehicles and driving east of Southwest Parkway – north on US Highway 281 and east on US Highway 287.
The Tornado blew many of those vehicles off the above mentioned highways, resulting in numerous deaths.
The F4/EF-4 wedge took the lives of forty two people in Wichita Falls, twenty five deaths were vehicle related and sixteen of the twenty five deaths got in vehicles to outrun the Tornado.
Before leaving the east side of the city, the Tornado destroyed the Sun Valley housing area, the Sunnyside Heights Mobile Home Park and several large commercial businesses including the Levi Strauss Plant – iconic jean maker.
Northeast of Wichita Falls, the Tornado trekked into Clay County. Not only did it enter a different county, it changed its appearance.
As seen in the photos below, captured by Winston Wells, the Tornado became multivortex (#10 on the damage path diagram). At one time, the F4/EF-4 wedge displayed as many as five satellite vortices.
At this stage of its life, the Tornado did extensive damage just south of Dean and near Byars, destroying a significant number of rural homes, but thankfully causing no deaths.
The grief and devastation caused by this Tornado is almost unthinkable
This particular type of Tornado event is unheard of! A violent Tornado tearing through an eight mile section of a city.
In addition to the forty two deaths caused directly by the F4/EF-4 wedge, three more people died of heart attacks/illnesses during the stress of the Tornado’s life. The number of reported injuries approached almost eighteen hundred however additional injuries were never recorded.
In 1979 dollars, total property damage in the city was estimated at four hundred million.
Over three thousand homes were destroyed and another were damaged. One thousand apartment units/condominiums were destroyed and another one hundred and thirty were damaged.
Around one hundred and forty mobile homes were destroyed, two schools were obliterated and eleven others suffered significant damage. Over one hundred commercial businesses were destroyed, some of which were large businesses/manufacturing – including Levi.
That concludes our in-depth overview of the Tornado. Now, relive the Tornado in videos below.