Tornadoes swept the Kansas City area 18 years ago. A look at the devastating storms

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One of the most violent tornado outbreaks in Kansas City’s history occurred 18 years ago on Tuesday. A series of storms ripped through the area, spawning tornadoes that caused widespread damage, according to National Weather Service in Kansas City.

One of the larger tornadoes flattened neighborhoods in western Wyandotte County. Tornado damage also was reported in Clay and Platte counties, The Star reported at the time. Two people died as a result.

This Kansas City, Kan. house and outbuilding were in the path of one of tornados on May 4, 2003. It is east of Wyandotte County Park near Leavenworth Road.
This Kansas City, Kan. house and outbuilding were in the path of one of tornados on May 4, 2003. It is east of Wyandotte County Park near Leavenworth Road.

When the tornadoes struck, all flights at Kansas City International Airport were halted and passengers in the terminals were evacuated to underground tunnels.

Five distinct tornado paths were found across the northern part of the Kansas City metropolitan area. Four of the tornadoes were caused by a single supercell thunderstorm.

Thomas Hadzel of Kansas City, Kansas, searched through debris after a tornado passed through a neighborhood near 102nd Street and Parallel Parkway in Kansas City, Kansas, on May 4, 2003.
Thomas Hadzel of Kansas City, Kansas, searched through debris after a tornado passed through a neighborhood near 102nd Street and Parallel Parkway in Kansas City, Kansas, on May 4, 2003.

Damage was reported in Kansas City, Kansas, Gladstone, Parkville, Gladstone and Liberty, according the the Mid-America Regional Council. At the William Jewell College campus, the college clock tower was brought down.

The first tornado touched down around 3:45 p.m. in Leavenworth County. This tornado’s track length was about 3 miles, according to a media advisory from the National Weather Service released a few days later.

In May 2003, a tornado moved through Leavenworth County and into Wyandotte County.
In May 2003, a tornado moved through Leavenworth County and into Wyandotte County.

The first of the four tornadoes from the single supercell was reported about 10 minutes later northwest of Linwood and south of the Kansas Turnpike in southern Leavenworth. The tornado remained on the ground for about six miles before lifting south of Basehor.

The second tornado touched down near the Kansas Speedway at about 4:18 p.m. and remained on the ground for about 15 miles, crossing into Platte County near Riverside and Parkville. The third tornado touched down in Gladstone around 4:45 p.m. and traveled northeast to just shy of Interstate 435.

A neighborhood near 65th Street and North Brighton Avenue in Gladstone was hard hit by Sunday’s tornado on May 4, 2003.
A neighborhood near 65th Street and North Brighton Avenue in Gladstone was hard hit by Sunday’s tornado on May 4, 2003.

The fourth tornado touched down in the Liberty area, which caused substantial damage to the square in Liberty and to William Jewell College before dissipating around 5:15 p.m.

The tornadoes also were part of a larger tornado outbreak in early May 2003 that affected the Great Plains and Eastern United States.

On May 4, 2003, around 80 tornadoes touched down. In southwest Missouri, supercell thunderstorms produced at least 15 tornadoes, killing 25 people and causing extensive damage near the cities Joplin, Franklin, Springfield and Stockton.

The tornado outbreak in the Kansas City area was the first since May 4, 1977, when a large tornado struck Pleasant Hill.