May 4-5 1950 Tornadoes, Blizzard, Duststorm and Windstorm
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On May 4-5, 1950 an interesting case of cyclogenesis occurred over
the plains states. All types of extreme
occurred with this system including blizzard conditions, tornadoes, a duststorm and high winds. A powerful shortwave
trough ejected northeast across the plains in negative tilt fashion. Strong surface cyclogenesis occurred with the surface low
deepening from 985mb around midday May 4th to 974 mb by midday May 5th. Several strong tornadoes occurred between
02 GMT and 06 GMT, with a tornado at 330 am. A blizzard began in eastern Colorado around 3 GMT May 5 and spread
north-northeast into western Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota by May 5th. A windstorm occurred across northern
Missouri and Iowa on May 5th.
Detailed Synoptic Sequence of Events
The 15 UTC May
4 500mb chart showed a deep trough over the southwest US with strong
flow across the plains states.
The 700mb chart showed a tight baroclinic zone from NM/AZ into Colorado and Wyoming. The 700mb 0C line stretched
from western NM to east of Denver to west of Rapid City.
UTC, a surface low(985mb) was located in southern CO with a warm front
east to southern Kansas. Keep in mind
that sea level pressure values can be suspect at higher elevations. For example, the SLP was way out of whack at places like
Alamosa, CO, Limon, CO and Colorado Springs for years. A cold front stretched south from the low to west of Santa Fe
and east of Rodeo, NM. The surface dryline extended from just west of Midland, TX to just east of Lubbock to east of Gage,
OK to just east of Hutchinson, KS. The cold front was charging east around 45 to 53 mph.
UTC a strong "pacific" cold front was charging east into eastern NM. The
surface dryline stretched from east of
Dodge City to just east of Clarendon, TX to east of Midland, TX. The northern end of the dryline was clearly retreating
westward. The minimum pressure in the sfc low was about 984 ot 985 mb which was relatively unchanged from 1930
UTC. The cold front was charging east at 45 to 53 mph. This speed remained almost constant through the afternoon and
evening hours as it moved into the Texas Panhandle and western Oklahoma. The warm front was moving north over
central and western Kansas as can be seen in the surface observations from Dodge City, Garden City and Salina.
By 0130 UTC the minimum value of surface pressure was about 983 to 984mb in far southwest Kansas. The surface
pacific cold front stretched south from the low to just east of Amarillo to just west of Lubbock to east of Wink, TX. The
dryline was still retreating westward and stretched from west of Dodge City to west of Perryton, TX to just east of Lubbock.
Surface observations from Gage, Dodge City and Clarendon, TX show the retreating dryline. Note that the cold front
had almost overtaken the dryline in west Texas and the Texas panhandle. Snow was falling across Wyoming and the front
range of Colorado.
The 03 UTC
500mb chart showed an intense shortwave trough located
over the southern Rockies, with a lowest 500mb height
of 542dm over Colorado. The 700mb chart showed the strong baroclinic zone marching eastward into the Texas panhandle
behind the pacific cold front. 700mb temps were very high by early May standards with +13C at Oklahoma City and +16 at
At 0830 UTC the surface low was down to about 981 mb with a trailing pacific cold front into central OK and
north Texas. Blizzard conditions had spread as far east as Goodland, KS. But it was still raining at North Platte
and Hayes Center, NE. The rain-snow line extended almost due north-south from Philip, SD to east of Goodland, KS.
A duststorm occurred during the afternoon and evening hours across eastern NM and west Texas. High winds from
40 to 70 mph occurred well behind the dryline and ahead of the pacific cold front, with visibilities as low as 1/4 mile.
Surface observations from Dalhart, Tucumcari and Roswell demonstrate this. The worst part of the duststorm, as is typical,
occurred behind a strong north-south oriented pacific cold front. Surface observations for several sites across the
region show visibilities from a half of a mile to near zero. Surface winds were as high as 50 to 60 mph. West winds gusted
to 120 mph at Guadalupe Pass, TX.
A tornado cut a half-block
path through Perryton, TX around 830 pm. Several homes and a large warehouse
destroyed. I am trying to gather more details about this strong tornado from local newspapers. "Significant Tornadoes"
shows 1 fatality and 13 injuries with this tornado. The storm that hit Perryton obviously developed southwest or
south-southwest of town. Given that the dryline retreated past Perryton around 730 pm and that the cold front
overtook Perryton around 830 pm(around the time of the tornado), I am speculating that this tornadic storm
developed as the cold front encountered the dryline southwest of Perryton around 8 pm.
At 930 pm a tornado moved NNE from 3 miles west to 6 miles north of Carter in
Beckham county, OK. 20 farms were
hit. One home was destroyed on highway 34.
At 1110 pm a tornado moved NNE from Zook, Kansas in Pawnee county to 5 miles NW
of Great Bend. The path of this
tornado is shown here. I estimated that the tornado moved North-25 deg E. 11 homes were destroyed near Zook with
near F5 damage to 2 homes. 66 of the 100 units at Barton Courts(northwest of Great Bend) were rendered unlivable.
Rural property damage was greatest at "Ray" in eastern Pawnee county. Prior to this tornado, thunderstorms moved across
Russell based on the original surface observations from Russell. Gusty north winds and falling temperatures occurred at
Russell between 9 pm and 10 pm. Thus, it is likely that outflow from storms north of Great Bend in the evening left out a
boundary(front or outflow boundary). Storms either developed along this boundary and became quickly tornadic or storms
developed when the front met the dryline and eventually encountered the surface boundary (becoming tornadic). The latter
scenario seems more likely in my opinion. A map showing the position of the front/outflow boundary that may have helped
cause this violent tornado can be found here.
At 330 am, a tornado moved NNE from 2 miles N of Holton, KS and passed 2 N
of Whiting and 3 S of Hiawatha.
2 homes and 13 barns were destroyed. Nine homes and 8 barns were damaged north of Whiting with all 5 injuries
occurring in this area.
These storms undoutbedly moved very rapidly to the NNE or NE at perhaps 50 to 60 mph.
Blizzard to near blizzard conditions occurred from eastern Colorado, across far
northwest Kansas and into much
of central and western Nebraska, south Dakota and North Dakota. Surface observations showing the heavy
snow at several locations can be found here. A map of snowfall can be found here. At least a 3 hour burst of
moderate to heavy snow occurred at Kearny, NE(elev. 2200ft), with accumulating snow at Lexington, NE(2400ft). This
is a rare occurrence this far south at such low elevations. North Platte received 6 inches of snowfall with a max
snow depth of 4.5" due to melting. 5 inches occurred at Hayes Center, NE. Goodland reported 4 inches of snow.
The heaviest snow amounts occurred in Cherry, Brown and Cheyenne counties in Nebraska, northward into
central SD and southern ND. Another snowstorm occurred on May 6 but totals from this storm are not included.
Some areas of SD/ND had 17 to 22 inches of snow from both of these storms combined.
I called the
Des Moines Register and they were able to read me an article from the
paper concerning this windstorm. Here
are some details:
damage total was still being assessed and was in the millions
$200,000 damage to Iowa Power and light system in DSM.
Trees fell and smashed cars
Windows blown out
many power lines down.
flood lights blown over at the Baseball park.
roofs blown off
lots of trees down
chimney blown off
drake univ billboard blown down
a man electrocuted in des moines
5th grader killed when Cupola?? of a building fell on him
33 yr old Madrid Grocer struck and killed by falling light tower at the baseball field