Cheyenne, WY Tornado Damage, July 1979

Cheyenne WY Tornado of 1979.jpg


Cheyenne, Wyo. (AP) -- Stunned by Cheyenne's first tornado in history, residents today resume searching the rubble of more than 200 homes in affluent sections of the city.
The twister injured 37 persons, five of whom were hospitalized. A 14-month-old boy, DAVID McKINNON, died of head injuries when his family's mobile home was torn apart, authorities said.
"No one ever thought we would ever have a tornado in Cheyenne, Wyoming," Mayor DON ERICKSON said, "but we had one."
The twister bounced across Cheyenne about 3:40 p.m. Monday, departing the city about half an hour later and leaving what ERICKSON estimated to be more than 200 damaged homes. The mayor said his estimate of the damage was "a very wild estimate. It's not scientific in any regard."
He said the funnel cut across a two-block wide area for 4 to 5 miles within the city limits. "It hit more than once," he said. "It might have hit half a dozen times."
As the twister came close, NORMA McCLELLAN urged her two teen-age children to get in the car and outrun it, but her son disagreed. The family took shelter in their basement, and when the sound ended, came upstairs to find their home destroyed.

The Paris News Texas 1979-07-17


Your Mom's friend McKinnon

I read your comment regarding your Mom being friends with Mrs. McKinnon and wanted to know if you knew James and Emiko Tasho who were also friends with the McKinnon's.

We left Cheyenne in the summer of 1978 after my father retired from FEW and took a job in Flagstaff Arizona. I had just graduated Central High.

A few years later, my parents went back to Cheyenne to visit friends. They stopped at Mrs. McKinnon's to visit.

I'll never forget the story my parent's told me about Mrs. McKinnon's ordeal. She said that she and her baby were sucked up into the tornado over 300 feet in the air and looked across to the other side and saw a cow floating in the air. Next thing she knew, her baby was ripped from her arms and she was thrown out of the tornado. Later, she said that initially, they didn't know her son was dead because the news kept saying that the police found a baby girl. Mrs. McKinnon told my parents that the mix up was due to her son having long blond hair - he hadn't gotten a hair cut.
Mrs. McKinnon did say that she was scheduled to have back surgery and we were sadden to hear that she died during surgery.

I don't know if anyone remembers when the tornadoes first started coming around Cheyenne, but I do.

Back in 1975, we lived at 7107 Manhatten lane. My Mom and I were folding clothes and she looked out the window and said that there was a funny looking cloud - like a carrot.

I didn't think anything of it at first, then decided to take a look.

I just stood looking out the window in shock. Finally screamed, "It's a tornado!" scaring the holey crap out of my Mom. I guess I screamed loud enough that my Dad heard my down in the basement and came flying up the stairs. He got my brothers and they went house-to-house warning the neighbors. Back then, there were no sirens, no warnings, nothing.

The following year, my bestfriend and I were Girl Scout ushers in the stands of the rodeo for Frontier Days. At that time, they had an event where there was a bulls eye in the arena and parachutists would try to land on the bulls eye to claim a cash prize. The clouds started rolling in and it became dark. The air was heavy and still; very eerie. We started to hear a rumbling sound like a stampede of horses. Everyone looked up to the sky and a tornado was barreling down on us. Everyone was screaming and climbing over each other to get out of the stands. The announcer was trying to notify the plane to cancel the jump but it was too late. Fortunately, all the jumpers made it to the ground.
The stands cleared and the fairgrounds were fairly empty.

It's 40 some odd years later and living in Minnesota - part of tornado alley. Every summer, I'm hyper vigilant when storms start to roll in; constantly monitoring the sky. I am mortified of tornadoes.

Sorry this got off track - just that I remember Mrs. McKinnon's story and wondered if you may have known my parents as well.

Thank you for your time.

I remember like it was yesterday

The little funnel cloud we just had today got me thinking about the tornado of '79. I was 4, my brother was 2, and we were home with my dad while my mom was at work. We lived in Buffalo Ridge on Moran, and luckily our house wasn't damaged, nor were we hurt. In the aftermath, I remember the piles of debris all over the neighborhood. That day is why I'm still terrified of tornadoes to this day.

Cheyenne 1979 Tornado Story

My wife and were living on Pattison Avenue in Buffalo Ridge on July 17, 1979. My wife was very pregnant with our first daughter, and we were renting an apartment in the four-plex buildings right at the bend in Pattison Avenue where Buffalo Ridge Elementary School is located. At the time, I managed the apartment complex owned by Bob and Shirley Smith, and I was working full time on the south side of town for the Gates Rubber Company, in a big warehouse facility that was very noisy. We normally did not hear noise from outside the building. However, that afternoon we were aware that a thunderstorm was happening as we could hear hail beating on the metal roof, and wind slamming against the side of the building. When my work ended about a half hour later, I turned the radio on in my truck and the station was on emergency broadcast, and said that Buffalo Ridge had been destroyed, and that the roads were blocked north of Dell Range Blvd. Needless to say, I rushed home faster than ever before. As I got closer to Buffalo Ridge, traffic was backing up. I came to a police road block, but the police were busy and not looking, so I drove around it. As I got closer to home, the debris and fallen power lines became heavier, until I finally could not drive any longer and had to abandon my truck somewhere around Converse Ave. I ran the last mile or so home, through the destroyed homes on Apache St. and Hickory Place. Running through the remains of our neighborhood, all I could think about was that my beautiful wife and our unborn baby was gone. I finally made it to our apartment building, and found that it was only lightly damaged. I ran up the steps to our upstairs apartment, and my wife was gone. She left a note telling me that she was ok, and that she had walked out of our neighborhood, and had gone to her mom's house at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. I was overwhelmed with relief. I grabbed some clothes and stuff for both of us, and headed back out. I finally made it to my parked truck and I headed to F.E. Warren Air Force Base to reunite with my wife at her mother's house.

My wife then told me what it was like to be that close to a tornado. She had been taking an afternoon nap in our bedroom on the south side of the apartment. The bedroom window was open, and she was awakened by people yelling. She said that she woke up and looked out the window, and could see what looked like smoke, toward the west. As she watched what she thought was smoke, she noticed it was getting closer. Then suddenly she noticed trash cans and other debris circling around the smoky looking cloud, and realized it was a tornado. She knew that she needed to get underground, so she ran downstairs to the back of our apartment building, which faced the south. There was a heavy hatch cover that was over the entrance to the crawl space under the apartment building. By that time the tornado was about 200 yards or so away, to the west. At 95lbs and very pregnant, my wife grabbed that heavy hatch cover and threw it aside and jumped down into the opening and crawled under the apartment building. She had crawled to about the middle of the building, when the tornado arrived just behind and to the south of the building. She said the noise was like standing beside a Union Pacific freight train, it was so loud. She felt the vacuum from the tornado, trying to suck her out from underneath the apartment building. She grabbed hold of the cast iron sewer pipes that ran under the building, and held on for dear life. The suction was tugging at her and trying to lift her up, kind of like Helen Hunt and Bill Paxton in that movie, "Twister", when they got caught out and strapped themselves to water pipes in a farms well house. She said she held onto the pipe while the tornado passed, taking what seemed like an eternity to her. When she emerged from underneath the apartment building, she saw how close the tornado came to our building. Our building was damaged, but could be repaired. The homes to the south of our apartments along Windmill Road and Apache Street were not so lucky. Neither was Buffalo Ridge Elementary School, just across the street to the south of our building. Thank God school was out for the summer break. Later, after power service was restored, we returned to our apartment. We found that most of the damage to our building was on the north side, even though the tornado was to the south side of the building. This was because the tornado pulling debris toward it, and as it flew toward the tornado to the south, the debris struck the north side of our building. None of our windows were broken, because my wife left the window in our bedroom slightly open. There has always been one strange thing that we noticed though. When we returned to our apartment, we found several roof shingles laying inside our apartment. Now there were no broken windows or screens, no holes in the walls or roof that the shingles could have come through. The only thing we could figure, is that since the window was open on the south side of our apartment toward the tornado, it produced a suction that pulled the flying shingles underneath our front door on the north side of the apartment. The door had one of those rubber door sweeps on the bottom, that something as thin as a shingle could possibly slip under, with enough force. I would be interested in hearing from other people that might have experienced strange phenomena during the tornado as well.

Looking back years later, my wife and I can see that the tornado of 1979 was one of those events in our life that we experienced together, that bonded us even further, and helped us to realize how fragile and precious life is. And how really small we are when compared to a powerful and natural occurrence like a tornado.


Ryan, are you related to Bob and Jan Roper? We were stationed with them at FEW in Cheyenne and went through the tornado at Buffalo Ridge. We had dinner with them couple years ago. We have fond memories of our tour in Cheyenne, and especially our friends at the base chapel.


We lived next door to your parents' home (left, facing their house) and vividly remember the events of that day. We returned in 2011 and spent time visiting with them. We never moved back to our house as the AF moved us onto the base. After the house was rebuilt, the following year the AF moved us to California.

I was working on base and saw the tornado forming, soon realizing that it was heading toward our house. That was the fastest my little Pinto ever drove through Cheyenne; I think I was going close to 50. I tried to keep my eyes on the road as well as the tornado. My wife and kids were in the lower half of our bi-level home, hiding from the storm, not realizing the seriousness of it. When I arrived, they weren't there; someone came to tell me they were at the realtor's office down Mountain. I, too, have pictures of the aftermath on Roundtop.

And if you remember, this was just a year after the huge hail storm came through destroying our garden, wiping out our windows and roof. In fact I was in the process of re-roofing the house. I had half done, the remaining squares were on the roof but ended up everywhere, including the bedroom of the house across the street from us.

First Tornado Memory

I can't say I remember it like it was yesterday, but it is one of the more vivid memories from that far back in my childhood. I was 6 years old. We lived on Greybull St in Buffalo Ridge, about 3 or 4 blocks from the Elementary School. My younger sisters and I, as well as my mom and another girl she babysat had spent the morning across town at a swimming meet (can't remember where). My mom's purse was stolen so I remember that we had to stop at the police station before we drove home. When we got home, my mom wanted us all to lay down for a nap. I woke up probably about 10 minutes before the tornado hit. I remember that it was pitch dark, so I was confused about what time it was. I went to go find my mom to ask for a snack and the next thing I know she's yelling at us to get in the basement. I ran down with one of my sisters and the other girl, then my mom came with my youngest sister a few minutes later. I remember being upset because our dog was in the backyard but mom said we had to stay in the basement.

When we went back upstairs, there were pieces of 6 ft boards from our fence that had been thrown through the kitchen windows. (Even though the fence was destroyed and the storm passed near us, our dog was also unharmed and did not run away). The entire roof was collapsed in my baby sister's room. When I was older, I would learn that my mom barely grabbed my sister out of the crib before the ceiling began to come down. Thankfully, we were all uninjured and for the most part, our house was okay - it was all repaired. The worst thing about that day was waiting for my dad and the other girl's mother. We had no power and no phones, so we just had to wait to see if they also came through the storm uninjured and when we would see them. They both worked downtown. Obviously, due to traffic and storm damage, even though the storm did not reach them at work, it was still a long time before they could get to our house. But eventually they did and all was well.

Members of my extended family were also effected. Thankfully, no one was hurt. However, my Aunt Suzie, who I believe was home alone in a newly-constructed house, made it safely to the basement, but the entire house was destroyed. My Uncle Bruce was not home, but his house was cut in half. Buffalo Ridge Elementary School was also cut in half. (Obviously, the parents were extremely thankful that it was summer and school was not in session). For the next school year, grades K-3 (I think, I was in 1st grade) were bussed across town to an old high school that was no longer in use. It was a difficult adjustment for us, because we were all accustomed to walking to school.

The other thing that made a lasting impact was the installation of the tornado siren. Prior to that, there were either no sirens, or not enough sirens in the Buffalo Ridge area. A siren was built right outside the back of the school. We started having tornado drills monthly, as often as fire drills. I believe there was also regular testing of the siren. Years later my family moved to Vermont. In many of the smaller towns there, they have volunteer fire departments. They use the same sirens when there is a call and they need the volunteers to report to the firehouse. It took us a long time to learn not to react to that siren noise anymore.

I remember

I remember that day well. That was the summer before my Senior year at East High School. I wasn't working that day and all my friends were working so I went skate boarding along College Drive, the pavement was pretty new and smooth and the little strip mall between Nation way and Lincolnway off of 12th street was in good shape. I decided to skateboard all the way up Pershing to Dairy Queen for a chocolate shake. I got there and got my shake, and went up to the top of the hill by the grave yard, thinking I would go the rest of the way up to Lions Park for the heck of it when I saw the clouds start turning dark. I decided I needed to head back to my side of town, SunValley west of College Drive, instead of going to the park. I caught the wind coming off the storm and boarded down the graveyard hill on Pershing, over the hill to Cole shopping center, down Henderson to Lincolnway. By then the sky had turned white and the temperature started dropping big time! I held out my shirt like a sail and went as fast as I could down Lincolway to Ridge road and to the house. I remember looking back thinking, "Man! I just made it!" I saw the crazy clouds and just got in the house as the hail started coming down.
I know the tornado didn't get close to my house, and I was ok, I got my mom to go to the basement and stopped her screaming and carrying on. We listened to the tv as the report of the tornado started coming in. I checked the time it took me to go about 5-6 miles on my skateboard and realized I got home in about 10 minutes! Which is pretty good on a skate board going up and down hills and through traffic. I guess the wind was blowing 50 to 60 mph and I must have averaged 25 to 30 mph on the way.
I remember when it was over and going outside, all the hail and rain left it cold, and the sky was still a strange eerie green, orange, red, blue and gray. I remeber the smell was so clean smelling, and it was so quiet. That is what I most remember, the scent of the air was so fresh. Then I went to help friends that had been flooded out up by Cole shopping center, and some other friends in Buffalo Ridge that got some damage.

July 16,1979 cheyenne tornado

Wow, I remember that day like it was yesterday also. I was 8 years old and my brothers and I were playing out in the front yard. We looked up to see what we thought looked like an explosion with airplanes being thrown in the air. It must have been right when the tornado hit the airport. About that same time we looked down the street and saw a little old lady running with her little dog in her bag. She was yelling and waving her arms. We laughed and pointed, thinking she was being silly...a few seconds later we realized it was out own grandmother...oops. Anyway, she was screaming and telling us to get inside and get to the basement. The next few minutes were a blur as she and my mother ran through the house opening windows and making sure we were all accounted for. Not understanding what was really going on, my brothers and I sat in laundry baskets in the wash room and ate candy. The next real vivid memory I have is my mom trying to reach her best friend on the phone. Apparently she had heard on the radio that the tornado was near her neighborhood. After the danger past, we all went upstairs, but my mother was still frantic to get a hold of her friend. Later we found out that her trailer had been hit and her baby was the one fatality of the storm. Her friend's back was broken and she too later died in a surgery related to her injuries. it is strange to look back on time. The next few days were a circus of activity; hospital visits, the funeral and the celebration of a new cousin who was giving the middle name of Toran.

We saw it form

My family & I were driving west on the interstate when we noticed a swirling "dust devil". We watched it grow from a small, clear swirl to an enormous black funnel cloud. Sirens went off in Cheyenne and my husband floored the gas pedal. (We decided the state patrol wouldn't mind!) Years later I worked with a woman in Portland, Oregon, who was in Cheyenne that day and she told me about all the damage. I didn't realize it was Cheyenne's first tornado.

Tornado of '79

We lived on Mountain Road. I was in Hawaii with a friend of was our 7th grade summer, and we lived through our first year at Carey Junior High School.
I was horribly burned my first day on Waikiki, and wound up sick in bed for a couple of days. Nothing to do in the room but watch the tube, which gave a nasty bit of news...Cheyenne had been hit by a tornado...lots of damage...and they showed photos of my neighborhood...
I frantically tried to call home, but couldn't get a hold of anyone. It wasn't until the next day that my folks called and reported the damage (they had been down in Denver at a family reunion when it hit).
We lost the garage, and every window and shingle. Our neighbor lost everything.

I din't even get to see the worst, as we didn't leave Hawaii for another 2 weeks...

I always thought it odd that everyone in the family was out of town when it hit...not that I'm not thankful...