March 13, 1990 Tornado Outbreak – Overview

March of 1990 was extremely active with a total of 86 tornadoes occurring.  78 of them during the period of March 11 through March 15th.  The most active day:  March 13.  59 tornadoes moved through parts of Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa. There were 2-F4 and 2-F5 tornadoes on the 13th.  We have summary pages highlighting each event.

The Hesston/Goessel, KS F5 Tornadoes

The Prairieburg/Worthington, IA F4 Tornado

The Lawrence, NE F4 Tornado

The historic March 1990 Storm Data Publication listed some unusual aspects of the mid-March tornadoes.

  1. The outbreak on the 13th produced the strongest tornadoes of record (at that time) so early in the season for so far Northwest in the US.
  2. The state of KS reported tornadoes on 4 consecutive days (11th, 12th, 13th and 14th) - very early in the season to be seeing this.
  3. There were some unusually times that tornadoes touched down:  Kansas reported initial touchdown at 11:49pm on the 12th, 12:10 am and 8:36am on the 13th for example.
  4. The violent tornadic thunderstorms in York County, NE killed 10,000 geese.
  5. On the 11th, a storm with cloud topes less than 25,000 feet produced a tornado with a 14 miles track in KS.  One bolt of lightning was noted by lightning detection equipment.
  6. Approx. 8 miles SW of Hesston, KS, a 1/4 mile section of fence was rolled up into a big ball in a tree row.
  7. It was reported that a pickup truck on the same proper as the fence in Point #6, was never found, except in pieces.  Only the steering column, wheels and parts of the frame were located.
  8. In Hesston, posts of a chain-link fence anchored in concrete were dragged through the ground for nearly 20 feet, leaving a narrow trench.
  9. Several tons of powdered cement were sucked out of a bin in Hesston.
All March 1990 tornadoes. Image extracted from March 1990 Storm Data Publication.
Map of tornadoes that occurred during the March 13th 1990 tornado outbreak via NWS Wichita
500mb and Surface Low Pressure daily composites for the period of the outbreak show an upper-level trough digging into the Plains and development of a low on the lee side of the Rockies that moves northeast. Map via US Tornadoes.


The Storm Prediction Center

NCDC Storm Events Database

3/1990 Storm Data Publication

NWS Wichita Summary

The March 13, 1990 Central U.S. Tornado Outbreak and the Hesston/Goessel F5s - US Tornadoes

Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 1292-1293.