On April 19, 1968 the deadliest tornado to strike our area tore through Greenwood in the late afternoon hours killing 14 people and injuring more than 200. The tornado was rated an F-4.
The tornado was only on the ground for 4 minutes, touching down at around 3:15PM in the southern section of Greenwood. The courthouse, city hall and many homes were destroyed in the few minutes the tornado was on the ground. The death toll and injuries could have been much higher if the tornado had occurred a few minutes earlier. The tornado struck the high school 15 to 20 minutes after school had ended for the day and no students were injured.
An Arkansas State trooper that responded to the tornado damage said it looked like “the aftermath of World War II bombing raids”.
The damage was estimated at $1.5 million dollars (1968 dollars). 98 homes in Greenwood were destroyed and over 100 more were severely damaged. 35 businesses were destroyed.
The storm system that produced the Greenwood tornado produced 12 tornadoes in the Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas that day. The Greenwood tornado was the most violent of those tornadoes.
Obviously, radar technology was not as advanced as it is now, and the residents of Greenwood had little warning of the tornado. If this type of tornado were to occur today, the advances in weather radar would give people plenty of time to take shelter. .
In 1968 the National Weather Service was using the WSR-57 radar. This was one of the fore-runners to the WSR-74 and eventually the WSR-88(D) radar that is in use today. The radar technology (by today’s standards) was primitive.
This is a look at what the radar output looked like on the WSR-57. This is a tornado that stuck near Wichita, KS.
**Most of the information in this blog post comes courtesy of the National Weather Service in Tulsa.