El Dorado and Greensburg Remember

In 1958, El Dorado, Kansas, was hit by a major tornado. Thirteen were killed. The tornado took an unusual, for a Kansas F-4 intensity tornado, southeast path. People from Greensburg were among the first to respond to El Dorado’s crisis.

In 2007, Greensburg had its own F-5 tornado. El Dorado promptly sent its municipal utility crews to Greensburg as a way of repaying them for their work in 1958.

“El Dorado Times” photo

To commemorate the bond between the two cities, El Dorado dedicated a plaque that they have added to their city’s tornado memorial. I was asked to be the guest speaker.

“El Dorado Times” photo

I told the large crowd that there was something that the two cities had in common besides the tornadoes themselves and that was Doppler radar.

In 1957, the Weather Bureau put an experimental Doppler radar in at Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport. That radar made the very first-ever detection and measurement of the El Dorado tornado, thus proving the value of Doppler radar for tornado warnings.

While it would take 35 years, a network of Doppler radars was installed across the United States from 1991 to 1996. The Dodge City Doppler would play a crucial role in warning Greensburg in 2007. While earlier the hook echo (non-Doppler) tornado signature was present, it briefly disappeared about twenty minutes before Greensburg was hit.

9:33pm May 4, 2007. The hook echo folded into the body of the supercell thunderstorm
before redeveloping as the tornado approached Greensburg. 

Had the Doppler wind display not shown rotational shear differences of 200 mph (a very strong tornado signature) it is very possible that meteorologists could have deemphasized the threat or even prematurely canceled the warning. Fortunately, meteorologists kept emphasizing the danger and the Greensburg tornado was a triumph of storm warning science.

I would like to thank the El Dorado Rotary Club, Mayor McKibban, and the people of El Dorado for the invitation. I was honored to participate!

The full story of the event is available here.

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