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The 2028 Wichita tornado was a catastrophic, long-tracked multiple-vortex tornado which impacted Wichita, Kansas and the surrounding area in the early evening of May 20, 2028. This very high-end EF4 tornado, with peak winds of 198 miles per hour, was responsible for 719 fatalities, making it the deadliest since the 2024 Oklahoma City Metro tornado.

The tornado was part of a larger system that produced 210 tornadoes in the states of Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Arkasnas, Missouri, and Iowa between May 18 and May 22. While the Wichita tornado was not the most violent tornado of the outbreak, it was by far the deadliest. 698 of the 719 fatalities occurred in the city of Wichita itself, while six occurred in Cheney, and 15 occurred in Andover. The Wichita tornado was the fourth of the decade to surpass the death toll of the 1925 Tri-state Tornado.

Synopsis

Between May 6 and May 18, the central United States experienced a severe heat wave; in the mid-afternoon of May 18 temperatures of 93 degrees Fahrenheit (33.8 degrees Celsius) were recorded in Wichita itself, while Dodge City recorded temperatures of 96 degrees Fahrenheit (35.5 degrees Celsius). In the early morning of May 20, a pronounced cold front began tracking east across the Great Plains; once it impacted the warmer, more humid air mass over the Plains, thunderstorms and tornadoes developed very rapidly. 56 tornadoes occurred in Kansas in the morning and early to mid-afternoon of May 20, killing four people. The Wichita tornado itself was produced by a classic supercell thunderstorm that developed around 4:50 PM, and rapidly began tracking northeastward. At 5:10 PM, a tornado watch was issued for Kingman, Barber, Harper, Pratt, and Sumner Counties; by 5:26 the watch was upgraded to a warning for Kingman County.

At 5:40 PM, an elephant trunk tornado developed to the southeast of Belmont, initially inflicting EF1 to low-end EF2 damage on barns and a transmission tower. As the tornado impacted the small community head-on, it caused steady EF2 damage, removing the roofing from several buildings and causing some damage to a grain silo. It intensified to high-end EF3 strength as it exited Belmont, widening into a strong stovepipe, and debarking small trees in its path. As it tracked across empty fields between Belmont and Cheney, the tornado gradually attained EF4 strength and caused ground scouring along a 7-mile stretch of its track. Rich topsoil carried by the tornado gave the funnel an unusually dark color and made it highly visible.

At 6:01 PM, the tornado entered the northwestern portion of the town of Cheney, Kansas at EF4 intensity, destroying two transmission towers, leveling many buildings, and throwing parked trucks up to 70 yards. The tornado weakened to mid-range EF3 strength as it cut through northeastern Cheney, before re-intensifying to EF4 strength shortly after exiting the town. Five fatalities occurred in northwestern Cheney, and one in northeastern Cheney; dozens of others were injured. At 6:03 PM, the tornado rapidly widened into a wedge and slowed dramatically to a near-standstill as the parent supercell stalled. A tornado emergency was issued for Wichita at this time, prompting hundreds to attempt to flee the city and thousands more to scramble for shelter.

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The tornado entered the town of Goddard at 6:19 PM at EF3 intensity, where it demolished several dozen houses and small businesses along the northern section of the town. Tanganyika Wildlife Park was also impacted; despite the tornado being of mid-range to high-end EF3 intensity at the time that it impacted the area, no human fatalities occurred.

The tornado entered Wichita itself at 6:21 PM at high-end EF3 intensity, but quickly intensified to EF4 strength. Houses in the Sandwedge area were utterly destroyed; a large, parked water truck was thrown 75 yards, and severe pavement scouring occurred. Winds in this area were estimated to be around 185 miles per hour. As the leading edge of the tornado impacted the Wichita Dwight D. Eisenhower National Airport, the funnel widened to a peak width of 1.7 miles.

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