Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Tornado Magnet: Twisters Hit Kansas Community on May 20 in Three Straight Years

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Tornado Magnet: Twisters Hit Kansas Community on May 20 in Three Straight Years

Article excerpt

For three years in a row -- 1916, 1917 and 1918 -- the northwest Kansas town of Codell was struck by tornadoes on May 20.

The first two twisters damaged property while the third killed 10 people and injured dozens in and around the unincorporated community in Rooks County. Codell is located north of Hays and about 200 miles west of Topeka.

The incredible coincidence was mentioned in a well-known publication of the time, "Ripley's Believe It Or Not."

While the first two twisters glanced along the town's east and west ends, the third went into its heart, said Sue McFarland, coordinator of the Rooks County Historical Society's Frank Walker Museum in Stockton, the Rooks County seat.

"That third one was the killer one," she said.

Codell residents, who called tornadoes "cyclones," came to know May 20 as "Cyclone Day," Celesta Adams Glendening wrote decades after she and her family survived the storms.

She wrote that as the morning of the 1918 tornado dawned: "I am sure there was not a family in Codell and for miles around that had not remembered and wondered if it would live up to its name on this day. Well it did, in less than 12 hours another cyclone had struck and left death and destruction in its path, by far the worst cyclone of the three."

Friday marks the first twister's 100th anniversary. The Topeka Daily Capital reported it formed three miles south of Codell about 7 p.m. on March 20, 1916, with the funnel-shaped cloud being clearly visible as it traveled northeast for about 15 miles.

Damage was estimated at $12,000 and was confined mainly to farm buildings, the newspaper said.

"No one was injured by the storm, though there were some very narrow escapes," it said.

The 1917 tornado also struck in the early evening, according to the website of the Kansas State Historical Society.

"This tornado swept to the west of the town, preventing much damage and any injuries," the site said.

It indicated the 1916 tornado was identified as being an "F2" on the Fujita Tornado Damage Scale -- developed later to gauge tornado intensity -- while the 1917 twister was an "F3" and the 1918 tornado an "F4."

The Topeka Daily Capital reported on May 22, 1918: "The little town of Codell, in Rooks County, is practically wiped out, all the churches, school buildings and larger business houses and residences being demolished by the tornado and the debris swept away."

An article about Codell on Wikipedia says, "Though the school was rebuilt and a new high school was built in 1938, the town never fully recovered from the devastation of the 1918 tornado."

Walker Museum coordinator McFarland said that assessment is true, adding, "We ended up with what was left of Codell's post office in our museum. …

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