WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — KFDX is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year, and we have had plenty of impactful weather events over the years. I spoke to Skip McBride and Meteorologist-In-Charge at the National Weather Service in Norman, OK Mark Fox about some of these events.

The first high impact event was also the first ever recorded violent tornado to hit Wichita Falls in 1964. The five-hundred-yard wide F5 tornado didn’t cause as much widespread damage as the ’79 tornado… But the areas that had the worst damage were completely swept away.

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 “There’s some place where there was F3 damage, F4 Damage, F5 Damage. There were houses where the slabs were gone, completely. Just wiped clean with just concrete on the ground. Other houses that collapsed in on themselves, which the damage isn’t quite as severe,” McBride said.
The next violent tornado to hit Wichita Falls came in ’79. The tornado outbreak known as “Terrible Tuesday” had three supercells producing multiple tornadoes, including the two violent F4 tornadoes that hit Vernon and Wichita Falls. The destruction from the Wichita Falls tornado was still evident years later when Skip arrived in town.

“When I got here in ’83, or ’82, you could drive down southwest parkway, and houses were completely gone, fences were down.” Said McBride, “And this is ’83, so this is like four years later.”

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Along with severe weather, we’ve had a number of winter weather events too. One of these was an early March snowstorm that resulted in Wichita Falls’s second-highest snowfall on record.

The heavy snow trapped people in their homes and trapped the KFDX staff at the station.
“We couldn’t leave because nobody was on the air.” Said McBride, “Nobody could get in to operate, so the camera people stayed, the production people stayed, and Cindy Bradford and I just sat here for 36 hours without walking out.”
Another winter storm that many will remember is the ’09 Christmas Eve blizzard. The heavy snow and strong winds wreaked havoc on holiday travel.
“People were coming home on Christmas Eve, up from Bowie, and they were stuck for 24 hours on the highway because of the snow. And trucks were stopped, nobody could get in and out, and they would say, you know on the radio, ‘conserve your gasoline’ because nobody can get to help you. And it took 24 hours before the roads could get clear enough that people could travel,” said McBride.
In the years following the blizzard, we saw one of the worst droughts on record. From the end of 2010 to the beginning of 2015 Wichita Falls was around two-and-a-half feet below average on rainfall.

Then came May 2015, when we had a record 17 inches of rain during the month. This lead to a disaster declaration for both drought and flooding at the same time.
“You know you had years from 2011 all the way through ’14 into ’15, it hardly rained at all. A lot of bad things happening with the drought.” Said Fox, “Then when the rains came in 2015, they came quickly in May and June 2015. Good news is it filled up the lakes, bad news is it takes flooding to do that.”
The most recent major event has to be the freeze of February 2021. Along with two heavy snowstorms, Wichita Falls spent ten days below freezing, including its second-coldest temperature on record of eight degrees below zero. The record cold across Texas has led to some rethinking about how to prepare for future events.

 “The 2021 freeze, that’s almost a game changer for Texas, I think. Because it’s changing the way people are reacting to power demands, cold weather shelters, when do you shelter people, when do you not. You know you get down to -8, -10, I think it was -14 in Amarillo, it doesn’t matter. You know, below zero around here, we’re not geared for that,” said Fox.
During my conversation with Mark, he mentioned that Wichita Falls is an interesting place to live weather wise. I think we can all agree with that.