Bill Kurtis recalls events of 1966 Topeka tornado

TOPEKA, Kan. (KSNT) – On a recent visit to Topeka, Bill Kurtis sat down with KSNT Storm Track Chief Meteorologist Matt Miller for this one-on-one interview recalling the events 50 years ago. Kurtis is remembered for his role in covering the tornado on television, saying “For God’s sake, take cover!”

Only a few months after the tornado, Kurtis moved to a job at a television station in Chicago. That led to a career in national broadcasting and even his own production company, but he has never forgotten the pivotal event that launched his career and changed the Capital City forever.

“I’m still doing the same job, a lot of these people are now retired, all my friends are retired,” Bill Kurtis said on the fact it has been fifty years. “They all have that moment embedded in their brains that it changed their lives.

Kurtis remembers vividly when he first heard about there possibly being a tornado.

Courtesy: Topeka NWS
Courtesy: Topeka NWS

“A note came before me from Ed that said it’s just wiped out the Hunington apartment complex,” Kurtis said. “That said a couple things: One, it was a big one. Two, you draw the lines and it was headed for downtown.

In the aftermath, seventeen lives were lost in the tornado.

“There was a shetland pony farm, the White Farm. He had 250 ponies who were grazing. They were lifted by the tornado, impaled, disemboweled, decapitated,” Kurtis said about the destruction the tornado left. “Everybody concentrates on the people that get away, or this miracle that some glass shards but it took a piano right next to them, but left them. That is not the true picture of a tornado.”

The Topeka Tornado was rated an F-5. Earlier in the day, an F-3 tornado hit Manhattan. No one was killed in the Manhattan tornado, but 65 were injured. Emporia was also hit on June 8th by an F-4, but it came 8 years later in 1974.


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