Oklahoma’s worst ever tornado struck Woodward in 1947. This was a violent category 5 tornado, more than a mile wide. It destroyed one hundred city blocks and killed 181 people.
The deadliest tornado to ever strike within the borders of the state of Oklahoma occurred on Wednesday, April 9, 1947, in the city of Woodward. It began near Canadian, Texas, and after traveling for about one hundred miles reached Woodward. The tornado was a violent F5 storm, more than a mile wide, and it unleashed its worst destruction on Woodward, striking the city without warning at 8 P.M. Over one hundred city blocks on the west and north sides of the city were destroyed.
There was lesser damage in the southeast portion of the town. Confusion and fires reigned in the aftermath with over 1,000 homes and businesses destroyed. The total death toll from this storm was 181. There were an additional 1,000 people injured in Woodward. Normal communications between Woodward and the outside world were not restored for some time.
This tornado began as one of a series in Texas. The first tornado formed five miles northwest of Pampa, Texas. Others followed as the path of destruction passed through three states before one did its greatest damage in Woodward, Oklahoma. As the storm moved beyond Woodward into Kansas, it weakened, although serious damage was reported in Barber County before it finally dissipated north of Kingman County.
Because of the Woodward tornado and other devastating storms in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and because of new technologies available after World War II, the National Weather Service began a tornado watch and warning program in 1953. Since that date the warning system composed of the National Weather Service, local civil preparedness agencies, and the media, have continued to mature and provide better and better information to citizens to protect against tornadoes. Because of the strengths of the warning system, tornado death tolls in Oklahoma and nationwide have dropped considerably with each passing decade.