Recalling the aftermath of ‘Terrible Tuesday’ 45 years later

WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — April 10, 1979, exactly 45 years ago, is a day that will forever be marked inside the minds of Wichita Falls residents.

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It's a day known locally as "Terrible Tuesday". Just as KFDX 3 News went on the air for the 6 p.m. newscast 45 years ago, a tornado nearly a mile wide was on the ground in Wichita Falls.

KFDX Anchor Darrell Franklin and Chief Photographer Curtis Jackson took a look back at "Terrible Tuesday" on the 45th anniversary on April 10, 2024, and recalled the moments that followed.

Recalling the aftermath of 'Terrible Tuesday'

Tornado in Wichita Falls on April 10, 1979 (Photo credit: KFDX/KJTL)

April 10, 1979, was a day that many lives were lost and uprooted by tornados in Texoma.

The first Texoma town to be hit by a fatal tornado was Vernon, with ten people losing their lives on "Terrible Tuesday". Grandfield, Oklahoma, and Waurika, Oklahoma, were also impacted by tornados.

Of all the cities in Texoma, however, Wichita Falls was hit the hardest. A massive tornado, with an F4 rating on the Fujita scale with wind speeds reaching over 250 miles per hour, leveled a large section of the city, claiming more than 40 lives and injuring over 1,700 people.

Tornado damage at Memorial stadium (Photo credit: KFDX/KJTL)

The tornado was first spotted by Memorial Stadium and McNiel Middle School, eventually tearing a path on the south side of town. By the time the tornado was out of Wichita Falls, it had caused over $400 million in damage.

45 years later, the damage total is estimated at $2.17 billion in today's dollars.

Former KFDX team members recall 'Terrible Tuesday'

Cindy Bradford, a former KFDX News Director, had only been at the station for a few months on April 10, 1979. She spoke with Franklin about that day 45 years ago.

Cindy Bradford, former KFDX News Director, speaking to Skip McBride, left, and Darrell Franklin, right (Photo credit: KFDX/KJTL)

"We had sent out a couple of crews because we had heard a tornado had hit first in the Vernon area and knocked a semi-truck off the highway," Bradford said. "Bill Warren was on the air and it was just before 6 o'clock, and he had just enough time to say, 'Take cover'."

Bill Warren, former KFDX anchor, remembers that moment all too well.

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Bill Warren, former KFDX Anchor (Photo credit: KFDX/KJTL)

"That was right at 6:00," Warren said. "At that time, the format was that the weather was first in the newscast. We had started the weathercast. There was a tornado warning for the northern portion of Wichita County at the time."

Warren said he began the newscast talking about the weather that afternoon, the tornados in Vernon, and Sam Armstrong came in from the newsroom with a piece of paper and ran over to the weather set.

"It said, 'Tornado at stadium. Damage reported.' And, I kind of felt like this is probably true," Warren said. "It was like, this is the one we always feared, the one that would come in from the southwest part of town and rake across the community."

Warren said he knew he had to act fast.

Damage in Wichita Falls on Terrible Tuesday (Photo credit: KFDX/KJTL)

"I turned to Sam, I said, 'This is accurate, you want me to put this on the air,' because there wasn't an official tornado warning from the weather service," Warren said. "He said, 'Yeah that's confirmed'. I said, 'If you haven't opened your windows, now is the time not to take the time to do that.'"

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"When we looked out, you could hear just kind of the sound, but you couldn't see the edge of it. It was just dark. You couldn't see the edge of it," Bradford said. "We actually in the TV station took cover in the film room, which was in the very center of the building and more or less did duck and cover in the center of the building."

Drive-in theater formerly located near KFDX (Photo credit: KFDX/KJTL)

Bradford said when they'd felt that the tornado had passed, they looked outside. When they did, they couldn't believe what they saw.

"We could see there was a drive-in theater across from us and it had been blown down," Bradford said. "There was a lot of broken glass with the vehicles, the windows, the dumpster right outside the door of the news department had moved. But then it was like, grab gear and go. We headed down to Wichita General Hospital and they were bringing people already in from Vernon."

Damage in Wichita Falls on Terrible Tuesday (Photo credit: KFDX/KJTL)

Former KFDX Chief Meteorologist Skip McBride said the tornado, which ended up being over a mile wide, blew over the drive-in theater that was across the street from the KFDX studio, even though the tornado was on the other side of town.

"Remember, the core is a small area," McBride said. "The winds can extend out a half mile, three-fourths of a mile, so you have a mile mide that have winds and 70, 80 miles per hour, and when it hit that up-right screen, just blew it over."

The tornado also blew glass out of car windows in the KFDX parking lot.

Damage in Wichita Falls on Terrible Tuesday (Photo credit: KFDX/KJTL)

The station also lost power, so crews were only able to go out and shoot footage of the devastation until dark. Soon, the entire nation would see what they saw.

"So, we all came back to the station, and there was an NBC crew that was doing a story at DFW Airport," Bradford said. "They got rerouted to where we were, and so what they did is they set up their cameras and recorders and we fed our footage from 3/4 inch tapes into their recorder."

The footage showed the aftermath of Terrible Tuesday in Wichita Falls; Millions of dollars in damage, more than 20,000 people left without homes, more than 1,700 injuries, and 45 lives lost, including three who died of heart attacks.

April 10, 1979, is a day no Texoman will ever forget, a day 45 years ago that will forever be known as "Terrible Tuesday."

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