By MICHAEL BUSHNELL
August 22, 2012
This real photo postcard spotlights the damage from the May 20, 1957, Ruskin Heights tornado that carved a 71-mile path of devastation from Williamsburg, Kan., to just north of Raytown, Mo. The caption on the front states the view is looking north from the Leonard Smith home.
By the time the all-clear had sounded from the newly formed National Weather Bureau, 44 people had been killed, hundreds suffered injuries on both sides of the state line and more than 600 homes lay in ruin in the storm’s path.
From a meteorological standpoint, the conditions were ripe on that day for super-cell thunderstorm development. According to the National Weather Service, which maintains a web page specifically dedicated to the storm systems that spawned the Ruskin Heights tornado, more than 50 tornados formed that day as a result of a low pressure system centered over central Nebraska that combined with a high level storm system coming off the Colorado rockies. Cool, moist air from the Gulf of Mexico further intensified the storm system. The first tornado touched down a little after 11 a.m. just north of Goodland, Kan.
In the months following the storm, Ruskin Heights residents mostly rebuilt and moved on with their lives. For years following the tornado, some residents were still alarmed by the passing of the Missouri Pacific freight trains, the line running north and south along Blue Ridge Boulevard. Engineers often blew their whistle as they passed so residents could tell the loud roar was a train and not another tornado funnel.
A memorial to those who lost their lives was dedicated one year after the storm and still stands as a testament today near 87th and Blue Ridge Boulevard.
The personal message on the back of the card reads: “Houses used to stand where all this rubble is. 800 were destroyed. Dear Helen, Having a wonderful time here. A little warm but house is air conditioned. (103) We go swimming at the country club almost every day to cool off. Went shopping at Macy’s etc. and bought two dresses. Saw the play Pajama Game. Steaks grilled outdoors tonight. Mary Wischnact.”
The card was sent to Mrs. Helen Miller, 172 Louvane Drive, Kenmore N.Y. on Aug. 2, 1957, a little over 60 days after the storm hit.
If you’d like additional information about the Ruskin Heights Tornado, visit:www.ruskinheightstornado.arctecowl.com