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Town Square

1947 Tornado Time Line

April 9, 1947: 5:42 p.m.*

"White Deer...little damage....few injuries"
   Richard Bedard, In the Shadow of the Tornado

     On the afternoon of April 9, 1947, the chilly, cold air of the Siberian Express met the warm, moist air of the Gulf of Mexico in the Texan Panhandle south of Amarillo. Weather forcasts had correctly predicted showers and thunderstorms. Rain began to fall in waves. About 5:42 a tornado dropped from the rolling clouds. The funnel followed the railroad tracks into White Deer, Texas, where it scattered the cars of a slow-moving freight train. The men working on the new grain elevator scrambled for safety. A few folks were left bruised and battered as outbuildings became kindling before the funnel lifted. The storm followed the Santa Fe tracks, out of town, headed northeast.


7:14 p. m.

"I started looking for Glazier, Texas, but the only building still standing was a filling station on the highway"
Roy L. Thrush, TWA pilot, 2:25 a. m., April 10, 1947

     In the prairie country through which the storm now passed, eyewitnesses noted five spinning tornado columns. The storm had evolved into a mulit-vortex killer, with winds estimated at two-hundred-mile-an-hour winds. Still headed northeast. It missed Pampa, going 5 miles to the north. Miami, and Canadian escaped as well, but north of Canadian, it claimed its first life.
     Glazier, population 200, was not so lucky. About 7:14 p. m. the storm cut a half-mile-wide swath through town. Seventeen died. (It is impossible to get an exact number of deaths. We have relied on research by Don Burgess for our figures.) Tradition holds that one building survived at Glazier. It is variously identified as a filling station, the small, concrete jail, or a two-story school -- with one story left standing.
     Forty-three minutes later the storm reached Higgins, Texas, population 750. By now, the storm was cutting a mile-and-a-half-wide path. Only the telephone exchange, bank and school building survived in the business district. Fifty-one people died. When gas mains exploded, flames took the theater, grocery store, pool hall, newspaper office. Contemporary newspaper accounts indicate nothing was habitable after the strom.


8:00 p. m.

"In the darkness of Wednesday evening, April 9, 1947, the most terrifying storm of all known time tore through what is probably the most populous and certainly the most productive part of Ellis County."
Gage Record, April 17, 1947

     Sixty-nine people were either already dead in Texas from the storm, or would die from their injuries. More than two hundred had been injured. Damage estimates? One-and-a-half million dollars.
     The storm continued toward the northeast. About 8 p. m., it crossed the state line into Oklahoma, north of Arnett. Flames from Higgins had already alerted Arnett area residents to the serious situation there. The funnels missed Arnett, went south of Shattuck, Gage, and Fargo, thus all Ellis County towns escaped. The storm did damage or destroyed some 200 homes and 300 outbuildings.
     Near Shattuck, two died; south of Gage, six. Forty-two were injured along the damage path which was now two-miles wide. By 8:21, the storm was almost due east of Gage. Woodward, population 5,500, was twenty miles away.


8:44 p. m.

"It's worse than Manilla."
Bernard E. Dunlap, World War II veteran

     The multiple vortex storm, with five or six tornadoes, cut a swath 1.8 miles wide through Woodward. The tornadoes were on the ground continuously for 100 miles during the storm's 221-mile-long journey toward the northeast. Tradition holds that the storm went from White Deer, Texas, to White Horse, Oklahoma. The storm system actually fizzled in Kingman County, Kansas. It had taken its last life in Woodward County. At White Horse, were 30 were injured, the storm still had a damage path one-mile wide.
     At Woodward, approximately 100 were dead, or would die from their injuries. Seven hundred were injured. One hundred city blocks lay in shambles, with four hundred and forty homes gone, 700 damaged.
     Recovery began immediately.
     Crawl out of the rubble. Organize. Find your family. Find the injured. Find the dead. Get word to Mooreland, Shattuck, Seiling, Enid and Oklahoma City that Woodward is hurt. "We need doctors, nurses, everything."
     The world responded. The Red Cross, theSalvation Army, the Mennonite Brethern, the United States Army, the list is endless.


"It will take us five years to rebuild."
Alex Geismar, Vice President, Bank of Woodward

TODAY: Clock Running
     Years after the storm, you could drive through Woodward and see the storm's path where new construction met the old. All events were dated as having happened before or after THE STORM.
     That division between old and new, before or after, faded in a half century. It has taken time for the physical and emotional scars to heal, to be able to remember and talk about April 9, 1947. This had not happened by the 25th anniversary of the storm. An exihibit at Woodward's Carnegie Library was greeted with indifference. Few came to see it. "Folks want to forget that tornado," the librarian said.
     Today, Woodward has recovered, physically, more than double its 1947 population. Woodward is a trade center for a 100-mile radius. It is also a place where folks watch the clouds a bit closer...and remember their date with Oklahoma's deadliest tornado.


*Times are based on research by Richard Bedard.

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