Forty years ago on April 10, 1979, a series of devastating tornadoes occurred across the Red River Valley in an outbreak that will forever be known as Terrible Tuesday.
The deadliest, and most destructive, of these tornadoes, made a direct hit in Wichita Falls.
Charlie Byars was a storm spotter that day and lived to tell the tale, showed Michael Bohling how to better prepared for the next.
“It was massive. It was so big, and I had never seen anything like that,” Byars said. “I had seen tornadoes, but not anything as big as that was, and of course, it was very devastating.”
After the storm passed, the deadly tornado caused nearly $500,000,000 worth of damage and left Wichita Falls unrecognizable.
“There were no landmarks,” Byars said. “You couldn’t find your way because nothing in the area that you were familiar with. It was all piles of lumber, destroyed homes, building. And it was difficult to try and navigate through the city.”
Forty-five lives were lost as a result of the tornado, and another 20,000 were left homeless. In the aftermath of the storm, residents across the city stepped up to help those in need.
“Other people in the community helped, and took a lot of people in to live with them while they rebuilt their homes,” Byars said. “And that was wonderful for people in the community to do that, and that’s typical Wichita Falls. We’re a friendly city and there to support each other when the need rises.”
Although we can’t prevent another tornado from doing the same type of damage, Byars said he believes storm spotters and meteorologists are now better equipped to protect the lives of those in the community.
“If we had another tornado tomorrow, we would not do the same type of service, or provide the same type of service that we did in ’79 do to technology,” Byars said.
In addition to constant communication with storm spotters in the field, other’s in the spotter network have the ability to track each spotter’s location on radar.
“Well that’s Lawrence Road, so he’s probably at Walmart,” Byars said.
With the advancements in research and technology, Byars said he thinks spotter’s are more capable than ever to protect the lives of those threatened by a storm.
“I think the technology has improved to the point that you know if people pay attention to what they’re being told, then they’re going to be safe,” Byars said. “Where if they don’t, they would be in trouble.”
Also included in the technological advancements, a drastic improvement to the lead time of warnings, and a reduction to false alarms.