Atmospheric Archive: Sherman F-5 Tornado

Map of Sherman in 1891: it was a sprawling and prosperous town severly damaged by the 1896 tornado.

The deadliest tornado disaster to hit anywhere in north Texas (including Dallas, Fort Worth and Wichita Falls) struck Sherman more than 100 years ago. Suppertime was approaching late in the afternoon of May 15, 1896 when an F-5 (old scale) tornado crunched through the west side of the city, killing 73 (60 in Sherman, a dozen south of town towards Howe) people and injuring about 200 more.

An eyewitness watching the scene unfold from downtown described it this way:
“They [the clouds] were parted at the lower side, converging into a perfect funnel-shaped point, while a while a boiling seething mass of vaporous clouds were rapidly revolving in the rift. The air was suddenly filled with trees and twigs and the downpour of rain brought with it a deluge of mud. Then the truth dawned on all that a cyclone was prevailing.” –from article entitled “Death Rode the Gale” by Stu Beitler

This tornado moved in a somewhat unusual fashion, almost due north. Although only 200 yards wide, which is fairly “narrow” for an F-5, the damage path sliced through a heavily populated area and thus the high number of fatalities. The Houston Bridge in Sherman was wrecked by the tornado; a trunk, no doubt wrenched from someone’s home, was later found 35 miles away.

Tornadoes are quite rare in Grayson County, considering the neighborhood. The Oklahoma City and Wichita Falls areas (not necessarily within the cities) catalog one or more tornadoes every year, many of them EF2 or higher. The 1896 event is the only recorded F5 tornado in Grayson County since modern records have been kept.

There’s going to be a big (EF-3 or stronger) tornado somewhere in Texoma every few years as this list shows:

EF3 or larger tornadoes in Texoma since 1980
Lone Grove, EF4, February 10, 2009
Anna-Westminster, EF3, May 9, 2006
Ardmore, EF3, May 7, 1995
Coal Co. May 11, 1992
Pontotoc County, March 21, 1991
Jefferson-Stephens-Carter-Garvin County, March 13, 1990
Pushmataha County, November 22, 1983
Paris, EF4, April 2, 1982 (two F-3’s in S. OK: Love and Choctaw Counties same day, the F-3 in Choctaw County became an F-5 and injured 25 people along its path)
Pontotoc County (Ada), March 15, 1982
Bryan County, May 23, 1981

This averages to about one every three years; but there are large gaps in the pattern such as the 11-year gap between 1995 and 2006. The bottom line is that we’re in Tornado Alley and large tornadoes will show up somewhere in Texoma every few years. The Lone Grove tornado is the most recent sad example of this fact.

Take Care,
Steve LaNore
Chief Meteorologist
KXII-TV
 

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