30 Years Ago Today: Paris TX Tornado

On 2 April 1982, a series of tornadic supercells wrought great violence across portions of northeast Texas and southeastern Oklahoma. Ten folks perished in Paris, TX, with 170 injured and damage rated F4. A separate supercell spawned an arguably f5-rated tornado that crossed mostly rural areas near Speer and Broken Bow, OK, and deposited a motel sign from Broken Bow 30 miles away in Arkansas. After dark, the outbreak shifted into southwestern Arkansas, with several more deaths from tornadoes produced by the same supercells that ravaged the Broken Bow and Paris areas.

      Image courtesy NCDC and NWS Ft. Worth

I still recall that day vividly, as a young teen in east Dallas. Already stoked by morning hail, and knowing of severe weather potential via weatehr radio, I was hoping to see some storms again in the afternoon, before the dryline surged through. I got out of school early for a doctor’s appointment, and rode my bike there. The office had a radio on and a TV off. After hearing warnings broadcast on WBAP radio, I asked the receptionist to turn on the TV for news of tornadoes to our north.

On Channel 5, Harold Taft was relaying Al Moller‘s NWS tornado warnings for the area around Bonham. Through trees and buildings, I could see parts of a massive pile of convection to the NNE.

Fortunately, I needed just a shot and a prescription; and the appointment didn’t take long. It was time to get a better view of some atmospheric action. I got on my bike and “chased” a vantage point for the soon-to-be Paris storm, on a hilltop about a mile away that had a good N and NE view.

Dallas was behind the dryline and in some blowing dust by the time I saw the supercell in its optimal splendor. That storm, lit with an orange tinge through the dust and in the late-afternoon light, blew my mind. The backshear, knuckles, enormous towers boiling into the back side of that storm at an upward pace visible to the stare, even from that distance. At that time it was producing six-inch diameter hailstones. To this day, despite hundreds of supercells seen since, I don’t recall clearly more powerful-looking, robust rear-flank convective structure that what was rolling up into the SW side of the Paris storm. It was a transcendental, awe-inspiring experience. The dust eventually got too dense to see much, the storm moved farther away, and the daylight faded.

Thanks to Jeff Passner for stirring up memories of that event on another forum.


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