Terrible Twisters

The Midwest picks up the pieces after violent tornadoes tear through the area

Apr 16, 2012 | By Vickie An
SANDRA J. MILBURN—THE HUTCHINSON NEWS/AP

More than 100 powerful tornadoes swept through the Midwest on Saturday and Sunday, creating a devastating path of destruction. The violent twisters tore the roofs from houses, damaged businesses and turned entire neighborhoods to rubble. But luckily, many residents were prepared for the incoming storms.

Advanced warnings are being credited for saving lives. Weather forecasters had issued sternly worded alerts more than 24 hours before the first twister touched down. People were warned that the storms could be "life-threatening” and that “mass devastation” was highly likely.

Life-saving Alerts

About 1,000 tornadoes strike the United States each year. The twisters can strike in any state. Most tear through a zone called Tornado Alley, which extends north from Texas to South Dakota.

Gary Gladwin looks over his wrecked property, in Thurman, Iowa, on April 15. A large part of the town was destroyed when a tornado hit the night before.
NATI HARNIK—AP
Gary Gladwin looks over his wrecked property, in Thurman, Iowa, on April 15. A large part of the town was destroyed when a tornado hit the night before.

Kansas Governor Sam Brownback said that as many as 97 twisters struck his state. Randy Duncan is the emergency management director of Sedgwick County, in south central Kansas. He says residents have gotten used to hearing tornado warnings. Forecasters worried that people would not take the alerts seriously. "We needed to break through the clutter of everyday noise to get people's attention," Duncan said.

It worked. The firm language, used by all forecasters in the area, caught the attention of 72-year-old Larry Hill, of Thurman, Iowa. Hill kept an eye on TV news reports and was inside a closet when a tornado ripped the roof off his house. “We’d been on the lookout for it for three days,” he said Sunday morning, as he sifted through what was left of his home. “We were ready as we could have been.”

A Deadly Storm

Of the dozens of tornadoes that hit over the weekend, only one proved deadly. Shortly after midnight on Sunday, a monster twister slammed the northwestern Oklahoma town of Woodward. The town’s 20 outdoor tornado sirens were not working properly after a tower used to activate the alarms was struck by lightning. The storm killed six people. It was not clear that the sirens could have prevented the deaths.

Emergency officials say residents should not only rely on outdoor warning systems to receive tornado warnings. They advise people to use radios, smartphones and TV reports to stay up-to-date on dangerous weather.

Woodward residents Curt and Andra Raymer were prepared for the worst. But after a tornado-free Saturday afternoon, they thought they were in the clear. Then, just minutes before the storm hit, they saw a news report warning people to take cover. The couple and their dogs quickly took shelter in the bathroom. Soon after, the roof was lifted from their home and crashed in the backyard. "We're just lucky to be alive," Curt Raymer said. "We walked out into the street and just couldn't believe it."