Pics: 1996 Fort Smith Tornado

These photos and images are intended to accompany my 1996 tornado article. You can see before-and-after photos of several of these sites here.

1996 tornado
Touchdown – an actual hard copy from the Tulsa Weather Service’s radar of the moment downtown Fort Smith was transformed into rubble. You can see how close Fort Smith is to the edge of the Tulsa office’s WSR-88D effective maximum range.

1996 tornado
The vorticity dectector doesn’t give a “radar confirmation” of the tornado until it has crossed the river into Crawford County. Ham radio storm spotters had been calling the funnel cloud in since it was sighted in Poteau, Oklahoma – calls to which Tulsa reportedly replied, “Where is Poteau?”

1996 tornado
KMAG’s tower (both halves of it), as seen from the roof of the Garrison Building, April 23, 1996.

1996 tornado
Looking west from the roof of the Garrison Building, April 23.

1996 tornado
A building at the west end of the 400 block of Garrison.

1996 tornado
Where’d the roof go? 200 block of Garrison – ground zero.

1996 tornado
The National Guard refuel their gas-powered generators.

1996 tornado
The Eads Brothers Furniture Building – “forced to vacate,” little did they know. This was on April 23, two days before the building exploded.

1996 tornado
Garrison Avenue’s 500 block: Old Town in the foreground, where I lived in 1996, and the Garrison Building housing KPBI behind it, where I worked.

1996 tornado
A tree was uprooted right in front of my apartment at Old Town.

1996 tornado
Damage to the travel agency that was on the Garrison Building’s first floor in 1996. Where do you want to go today?

1996 tornado
The Broadway Restaurant’s awning was ripped off of its supports.

1996 tornado
Another view of the destruction in Garrison Avenue’s 200 block.

1996 tornado
Another view of the building in the 400 block of Garrison Avenue.

1996 tornado
Ground zero in the 200 block.

1996 tornado
More devastation at ground zero.

1996 tornado
Looking west, toward the Arkansas River bridge into Oklahoma, from the west edge of the 300 block of Garrison.

1996 tornado
Which is Third and which is Garrison? A twister-twisted street sign.

1996 tornado
In the 300 block of Garrison Avenue.

1996 tornado
The remains of the appropriately named – but almost completely destroyed – “P” Street sewage plant.

1996 inferno
Thirty minutes after the explosion, smoke still towers over the Eads Bros. building. (April 24, 1996)

1996 inferno
From the seventh floor of the Garrison Building, a look at the huge cloud of smoke and steam from the Eads fire, a few minutes after the previous picture.

1996 inferno
Some of the finest and bravest residents of Fort Smith battling the Eads Bros. fire.

1996 inferno
Again from the seventh floor, the fire is under control as firefighters on the street edge closer to the site of the blast. On the second floor of the building just to the right of where you see the red and white vehicles parked on Garrison was my apartment.

1997 imbroglio
Tulsa Weather Service meteorologist Steven Piltz explains a radar plot to a Fort Smith resident after a “post-mortem” town meeting on March 3rd, 1997. The meeting was partly for PR purposes, to introduce Fort Smith to the new heads of the Tulsa office. (Those in charge on April 21, 1996 had been quietly dismissed several months after the tornado.)

1997 imbroglio
Then-city-administrator Strib Boynton looks on as KISR radio personality Fred Baker berates Tulsa Weather Service chief Lans Rothfusz during the 1997 town meeting’s open Q & A session.

1997 imbroglio
A look at the packed house addressed by Rothfusz at the 1997 meeting in Fort Smith.

1997 imbroglio
Lans Rothfusz addresses the crowd. Did anyone brief this poor guy when he took the job?

1997 imbroglio
Among those listening to Rothfusz in the background included KPOM’s Mike Burgess (far left), KFSM’s Jay Hilgartner (just to Rothfusz’s left), and Strib Boynton (standing in doorway).

1997 tornado
OG&E repair crews finally get around to fixing downed power lines within a few blocks of the 4th Street power substation in the background, on the morning of February 21, 1997, nearly twelve hours after power was knocked offline by 80+ mph winds. This post-storm incident was at least the eighth major power outage to occur since the 1996 tornado which struck the substation directly, the damage of which was not fully repaired until some time after I left Fort Smith.

1997 tornado
Around half of the fence which divides the lanes of traffic on the Highway 64 Garrison Avenue bridge was ripped off of the posts on the center median by the storm which struck on February 20, 1997.

1997 potato
Seen from the Garrison Avenue bridge, the Arkansas River, swollen by heavy rains from the storm on February 20, 1997, drops by the riverfront park for a picnic.

1997 mosquito
As if anyone needs evidence that things took a long time to return to normal in downtown Fort Smith, take a look at the 200 Garrison building, a recently-refurbished office building which got a permanent and unpleasant remodeling from the tornado nearly a year before. Some of the windows you see in this picture have no glass, and the tattered venetian blinds inside are blown out into the open by a good wind, which is also blowing the still-twisted street sign in the foreground.

1997 chee-to
OG&E’s crews, still at it on February 21, 1997. While I can appreciate the dangerous nature of this job, I only had to lose a couple of full refrigerators worth of food due to power outages to start thinking maybe they could do this a little bit faster and more permanently.

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