Tornado Outbreak - May 4, 2003


Contact: Michael J. Hudson
May 7th, 2003


Editor’s note: corrections were made to the initial northern Leavenworth County tornado data, and also to where the initial F4 damage was reported in Wyandotte County.

A damage assessment team from the National Weather Service in Pleasant Hill, Missouri, has
performed a survey of tornadoes, which struck the Kansas City metropolitan area on May 4, 2003. Results of the survey indicate five distinct tornado paths in portions of Leavenworth and Wyandotte Counties in Kansas, and across portions of Platte and Clay Counties in Missouri. Two of the tornadoes received a maximum intensity rating of F4 on the Fujita damage scale, two a rating of F2, and the last a rating of F1.

At a news conference held at the Mid-America Regional Council on Wednesday, Lynn Maximuk,
Meteorologist-In-Charge of the National Weather Service Office in Pleasant Hill, Missouri, and Dr. Chuck Doswell from the University of Oklahoma reported that a total of five tornadoes struck in or near the Kansas City area with storms on May 4th, 2003. After a preliminary damage assessment, the National Weather Service Quick Response Team rated these tornadoes the strongest the metropolitan area has seen since 1977. Maximuk said that the small number of casualties in the metro area — one death and fewer than 40 injuries — are a credit to the partnerships in the community between the National Weather Service, the media and emergency management professionals. Warnings were issued with an average of fifteen minutes lead time prior to each tornado touchdown, giving area residents ample time to take cover. A total of 25 tornado warnings were issued on Sunday from the Pleasant Hill National Weather Service

The first tornado touchdown was noted in Leavenworth County at 3:45 p.m., by officials of Fort
Leavenworth in open country on base grounds. Damage of F1 intensity was observed from this tornado across the river into Platte County, starting along Missouri Route 92, near its intersection with North Farley Road. This damage extended about one and a half miles to the east, with a width of around 50 yards. Damage was noted to the north of Route 92 to two barns, along with tree and fence damage. This damage appeared to be produced from downbursts, which likely occurred to the north of the tornado track, closer to the updraft and downdraft interface of the storm. Total track length of this tornado was approximately 3 miles. Initial reports of a brief tornado touchdown were received from north of Jarbalo, but no evidence of a tornado touchdown was found in this area.

A series of four tornadoes was evident from both ground and air surveys across the Kansas City
metropolitan area, from the supercell thunderstorm which tracked east-northeast across the western and northern sections of the metropolitan region.

The first of these tornadoes touched down in southern Leavenworth County, at around 3:54 p.m., northwest of Linwood and south of the Kansas Turnpike, near 198th and Wood Ann. Video shows the tornado crossed the Kansas Turnpike east of the Eastern Toll Booth, and then proceeded northeast to where it lifted south of Basehor around 4:12 p.m. Total track length was six miles, with a width approaching 200 yards at times. The tornado was given a maximum Fujita intensity rating of F2. This maximum damage was noted to homes near and just northeast of the intersection of 166th and Kansas Road.

The second tornado touched down just north-northwest of the Kansas Speedway at approximately 4:18 p.m. This tornado initially produced F0 to F1 damage, but it did produce an area of F3 damage to two homes, just south of Parallel Parkway near Interstate 435. The tornado grew in width to near 500 yards in Kansas City, Kansas, where instances of marginal F4 damage were noted around 91st and Leavenworth Road. The tornado continued to produce F2 to F3 damage northeast to near 84th Terrace north of Leavenworth Road. The latter location was where one fatality was observed. The tornado continued northeast through Wyandotte County, where another instance of marginal F4 damage was noted near 79th Street and Cernech. Considerable structural damage was noted in this location, along with four 150 foot-tall metal power poles engineered to withstand maximum winds of over 200 mph. The tornado proceeded to produce F1 to occasional F2 damage up to the Missouri River. Based on air surveys, the tornado passed just north of the power plant in northeast Wyandotte County, skirted along the Missouri River inflicting F0 tree damage on both the Wyandotte and Platte County sides of the river, and eventually crossed east into Platte County near Riverside and Parkville around 4:30 p.m. The tornado continued east, but with a smaller damage path through commercial areas near Highway 9. The tornado crossed Interstate 635 near mile marker 11.8, and it produced F1 damage east of this point until the tornado apparently dissipated around 4:42 p.m. Total track length of this tornado was near 15 miles.

The third tornado touched down in Gladstone, Missouri, apparently from a new circulation which
formed to the northeast of the one which produced the second tornado, around 4:45 p.m., around the area of Shady Lane and Antioch. Tree and roof damage accounted for F0 to F1 damage in this area. The tornado quickly intensified, and damage of marginal F4 intensity was noted approximate one mile northeast of this area, near the intersection of NE 63rd Terrace and North Jackson. Another small area of marginal F4 intensity was noted just northeast of this location, in the Carriage Hills subdivision, just south of Pleasant Valley Road near North Brighton. Areas of F1 to F3 intensity damage were noted around these specific neighborhoods in the Carriage Hills subdivision. The tornado continued northeast, based on air surveys, to just shy of Interstate 435 before dissipating shortly before 5:00 p.m.

The fourth and final tornado in the series that moved through the metropolitan area touched down
in the Liberty area. Air surveys indicated spotty damage from Missouri Route 291, south of Missouri Route 152, northeast to near downtown Liberty. Substantial damage was noted near the square in Liberty, and to William Jewell College. The tornado tracked east along Missouri Route H into rural portions of Clay County east of Liberty, before the tornado apparently dissipated around 5:15 p.m. Maximum intensity damage noted in this area was F2, based on air survey and input from local emergency management.

Despite spotter reports during the event, no evidence of tornado touchdowns were found in Ray
or Jackson Counties in Missouri. Graphical maps of these tornado paths, annotated with Fujita damage scale assessments, will be posted on the Pleasant Hill web site at Additional details on the Fujita damage scale can be found at