Better late than never: F-2 tornado confirmed 22 years after the fact

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Some 22 years after severe storms in central Kentucky injured several Jessamine County students, the National Weather Service has confirmed an F-2 tornado did much of the damage.

Meteorologist John Gordon, who heads the National Weather Service office in Louisville, decided to take a closer look at the storm system after being invited to speak at the Nicholasville Rotary Club last fall and was peppered with questions about it.

“I examined all the radar data, damage pictures, aftermath news video, listened to eyewitness accounts, and determined this was actually an F2 strength tornado with winds of 135-140 miles per hour and path from eight to ten miles long,” Gordon said. “It is just utterly amazing that no one died. This was the worst-case scenario.”

On the morning of May 18, 1995, a line of thunderstorms moved from Anderson and Washington counties between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., moving eastward into Jessamine, Fayette and Madison counties, injuring several people, damaging homes and barns and killing seven horses.

The storm hit West Jessamine High School about 7:45 a.m. as buses were arriving with hundreds of students on board. A principal had made the wise decision to keep students on the buses until the storm passed.

“More than two dozen students received minor injuries — mostly cuts from broken glass,” according to an incident report at the time. “Only one student was seriously injured.”

The report said the storm caused $2 million in damage to the school.

“It ripped the roof off parts of the building, collapsed the front wall of the school, destroyed several outbuildings, and rolled the bleachers into a ball,” according to the report. “School administrators canceled classes for the remainder of the year, eight days ahead of schedule.”

Gordon said he was unaware of the storm system until Rotary Club members brought it to his attention.

“I was working at the Weather Service office in Springfield, Missouri, at the time, so I’d never heard about it,” he said.

Gordon said he and others at the Louisville weather office have been working on the project for three months, and they’re not finished yet.

“I still have a lot of analysis to do to determine if there were also tornadoes in Fayette and Clark counties from this system,” he said.

Gordon said he hopes to wrap up the investigation and issue a final report by June 30.

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