Visiting the Chapman, Kansas, EF-4 Tornado Damage

On May 25th, 2016, a large and violent, long-track tornado tore through the landscape across north-central Kansas causing extensive damage along Interstate 70 between Abilene and Chapman, Kansas. What was a marginal day for severe weather ended up producing one of the most violent tornadoes of the 2016 season. We visited Chapman on Saturday, July 23rd, to document the damage that was still clearly evident two months later.

Chapman tornado radar
Animated radar imagery of the Chapman, Kansas, tornadic supercell. Base Reflectivity left; Base Velocity right. GIF credit: NWS Topeka
Chapman Tornado Damage 1
Brick framed house that was completely swept away by the tornado at its peak intensity in South Chapman, Kansas. Photo credit: Harrison Sincavage

Rated EF-4 with estimated winds of 180mph, multiple houses were completely swept away. Trees 3 to 4 feet in diameter were snapped in half and debarked, and even railroad tracks were bent significantly by the intense vertical winds at the surface. Of which, railway traffic through Chapman was shut down for three days. A photo of the bent railway tracks can be found here.

Chapman railroad tracks
Location of near where the steel railroad tracks were replaced after being bent by the tornado south of Chapman, Kansas. Photo credit: Harrison Sincavage

After the tornado crossed Interstate 70, it reached peak intensity and narrowly missed the town of Chapman by roughly a 1/2 mile south of town, near this location by the train tracks. Multiple times throughout its life cycle, its width was nearly one half mile wide. The tornado was also on the ground for over a staggering 90 minutes. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed due to ample warning time and the issuance of a Tornado Emergency for Chapman by the National Weather Service in Topeka, Kansas.

Chapman tornado track
Tornado track map compiled by the National Weather Service in Topeka, Kansas.

While revisiting the damage path, we continued to the east-southeast of town and observed even more extensive tree damage. The following image puts into perspective the mere size of the tornado as it moved through the farm fields south of Chapman.

Chapman tree damage
Extensive tree damage just south of Chapman, Kansas. Photo credit: Harrison Sincavage
Chapman tornado damage
More extensive tree damage south of Chapman, Kansas. Photo credit: Harrison Sincavage

What struck me as rather odd (fortunate, but odd) is that the tornado spared this house from being destroyed. Some minor damage was noted, but the trees right next to the house and behind it were mangled. Tornado damage can be strange at times, especially if there are sub-vortices that curve through the landscape like they did the day prior near Dodge City, Kansas. If you have ever seen the film “Twister”, it reminded me of the ending scene where the house was spared as well by the tornado.

Chapman house damage
House spared by the EF-4 tornado from May 25th, 2016. Photo credit: Harrison Sincavage

As we left Chapman, we drove westward on Interstate 70 towards Abilene where the tornado initially touched down just to the north of town. We came across another brick framed house and several outbuildings that were completely destroyed. Vehicles were thrown hundreds of feet by the tornado as well, and we found a truck that was stripped of its bed, wheels, and engine. Where this truck was initially or where it was found by the damage survey team(s) is unknown. However, it is one of the many reasons you should never take shelter in your vehicle during a tornado.

Chapman tornado truck damage
A truck completely destroyed by the tornado north of Abilene, Kansas. Photo credit: Harrison Sincavage

The Chapman, Kansas, tornado was part of a multi-day severe weather outbreak across the central Plains. On May 25th, it was the second day in a row that a Tornado Emergency was issued by a National Weather Service office. It was also the second day in a row of strong-to-violent tornadoes in Kansas. And throughout the multi-day severe weather outbreak, no lives were lost.

With no fatalities and minimal injuries from the multi-day outbreak, it does go to show how far we have come in the weather warning process, as well as accuracy in forecasting. Additionally, having live streams of the Chapman tornado also weighed heavily in the warning decision making by the NWS office in Topeka, as the situational awareness was crucial for warning issuance. Ultimately, it saved lives despite the extreme damage across a 26 mile stretch along Interstate 70.

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