NAPPANEE — The EF3 tornado that made its path southeast of Nappanee five years ago was rare, and Elkhart County had not witnessed a tornado of such intensity since the 1965 Palm Sunday tornado, according to Michael Sabones, meteorologist-in-charge at the National Weather Service, Northern Indiana office.
The night the tornado hit in Nappanee, Sabones and the team at the NWS Northern Indiana office switched from their day-to-day routine to an organized operation with the focus of sending warnings to the community.
With a fast developing storm, the challenge was to have enough time to send warnings to the community.
“We had very strong winds that were moving the storms, moving about 60 mph,” he said. “It formed very rapidly and moved very rapidly and had Nappanee in its sights, and there wasn't a lot of time to deal with it. That was certainly a challenge.”
The community had 10 minutes to seek shelter before the tornado hit.
The tornado touched down around 10:05 p.m. just west of Bourbon as an EF0. As it moved northeast toward Kosciusko County with winds at 50 mph, it evolved quickly to a level EF1 tornado.
When it reached Nappanee, it became a high-end EF3, with winds reaching 165 mph. It dissipated at C.R. 46 and C.R. 17.
The tornado destroyed several homes in its path. According to a damage assessment from the city of Nappanee, 64 homes were destroyed, with 148 receiving major damage and another 27 receiving minor damage. Nearly all businesses affected were in Nappanee.
“A level EF 4 is pretty darn bad. When we had the Palm Sunday tornadoes in Elkhart in 1965, those were EF4 tornadoes,” Sabones said. “A high-end EF3 is approaching the types of storms we had back then.”
Though not as rare as EF4s and EF5s, level EF3 tornadoes are not seen very often, Sabones said.
The time of the day that the tornado hit was also rare. Tornadoes don't usually hit at night. But the effective use of warnings and the fact that people took action immediately helped avoid fatalities, Sabones said.
“This was a difficult storm to predict I'm very thankful we were able to get warnings out in time and then the community reacted very promptly,” he said.
Elkhart Truth reporter Dan Spalding contributed to this story.
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Find all these stories and more, including past coverage of the tornado, on our Nappanee Tornado: Five years later page.