A tornado to remember

The tornado that came to be called the ?Hesston Tornado? actually originated near Pretty Prairie and headed northeast, narrowly missing Hesston, Yoder and Burrton.

It struck Hesston at about 5:37 p.m. In the two-and-one-half minutes it took to pass through the community, 16 people were injured, 21 businesses and 226 single- and multi-family dwellings were damaged or destroyed. An estimated 300 people were instantly rendered homeless.

Miraculously, no one in Hesston died from the tornado, but the storm did claim two fatalities before it was over: Lucas Fisher, 6, a first-grader from Burrton, and Ruth Voth, rural Goessel.

The tornado that plowed through Hesston was of F4 intensity (winds of 204 to 260 mph) on the Fujita scale. A second tornado, of F1 or F2 intensity, touchdown just northeast of town. Both tornados traveled roughly parallel to each other for two miles, then converged. The result was a large tornado which shortly reached F5 intensity (261 to 318 mph winds) as it headed toward Goessel. It passed southeast of town, but headed in a direct path toward Hillsboro.

Shifting slightly to the east as it approached, it passed a mile or so southeast of Hillsboro, then ?roped out,? lifted and moved through the air above Marion Reservoir.

About 10 minutes and eight miles later, a new tornado began forming near Pilsen and passed over the small community. Somehow, the St. John Nepomucene Catholic Church in Pilsen, admired for its prairie cathedral architecture, was spared as the funnel flew over the church?s steeple and then touched down again beyond Pilsen.

That tornado, with an intensity rating of F2 (113 to 157 mph winds), headed northeast toward Lincolnville and Lost Springs before leaving Marion County and entering Morris County.

?Information from Year of the Storms, Hearth Publishing (1990).

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