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July-August 2010

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Weather Warnings: History in Action

The June 1959 issue of Weatherwise featured a gripping, first-hand account of what it was like to be caught inside an F-5 tornado. In “Inside the Kansas City Tornado,” Mr. Robert Jackson of south Kansas City described what it was like to be caught inside what came to be known as the Ruskin Heights Tornado and described being knocked off his feet as he held on to a tree. He went on to say:

I could see this white column and I realized I was looking up into the core of the tornado. I can't describe it, it was just the most awesome thing. This column just mounted right straight into the heavens. It was bent toward the northeast up to about 200 to 300 feet, then straightened out and went straight up.

That description of the interior of a tornado has been quoted numerous times in the subsequent half-century and apparently helped inspire one of the final scenes in the 1996 movie Twister, which tells the story of two lovesick storm chasers.

While the dramatic description of what it was like to see the inside of a tornado received most of the attention following Jackson's wild ride, for weather history enthusiasts, one particular sentence of the Weatherwise article holds particular significance: “We heard the radio broadcasts which were describing the progress of the tornado …” Although the sentence seems unremarkable today, in 1957, it was groundbreaking at the time.

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