Without Warning


Without Warning

The Tornado of Udall, Kansas

Jim Minick 

250 pages
24 photographs, 1 map, 1 appendix


May 2023


$24.95 Add to Cart
eBook (EPUB)
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May 2023


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eBook (PDF)
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May 2023


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About the Book

2023 Martin Kansas History Book Award

In 1955 the small town of Udall, Kansas, was home to oil field workers, homemakers, and teenagers looking ahead to their futures. But on the night of May 25, an F5 tornado struck their town without warning. In three minutes the tornado destroyed most of the buildings, including the new high school. It toppled the water tower. It lifted a pickup truck, stripped off its cab, and hung the frame in a tree. By the time the tornado moved on, it had killed 82 people and injured 270 others, more than half the town’s population of roughly 600 people. It remains the deadliest tornado in the history of Kansas.

Jim Minick’s nonfiction account, Without Warning, tells the human story of this disaster, moment by moment, from the perspectives of those who survived. His spellbinding narrative connects this history to our world today. Minick demonstrates that even if we have never experienced a tornado, we are still a people shaped and defined by weather and the events that unfold in our changing climate. Through the tragedy and hope found in this story of destruction, Without Warning tells a larger story of community, survival, and how we might find our way through the challenges of the future.

Author Bio

Jim Minick is the author or editor of seven books, including the award-winning Fire Is Your Water and The Blueberry Years: A Memoir of Farm and Family. His work has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, Poets and Writers, Oxford American, Orion, and Shenandoah.


"Without Warning can serve as primary source material for further study of the tornado and could be of interest to collections on Kansas history and natural disaster narratives."—C. A. Sproles, Choice

"For anyone of us who has lost faith in America and its basic sense of seeking the common good, Without Warning is a reminder that regardless of our political leanings, we pull together during times of great crisis and need. Udall, Kansas stands as a shining example."—John Newlin, New York Journal of Books

"More than a fascinating and emotional read . . . [Without Warning] offers a guide for enduring disasters yet to come."—Michael Ray Taylor, chapter16.org

“A time capsule of rural American lives and a testament to the tenacity and grit of the human spirit, Without Warning captures a community before, during, and after one of the most devastating natural disasters in our nation’s history. This is a story of loss and despair, resilience and hope, all rendered stunningly by prose deeply measured and tightly wrought. Minick is a master of the form.”—David Joy, author of When These Mountains Burn

Without Warning is a page-turning disaster narrative in the tradition of The Perfect Storm and Isaac’s Storm: spare, vivid, suspenseful, meticulously researched, and utterly harrowing. But the havoc an F5 tornado wrecked on this quintessential Kansas small town in the spring of 1955 is only part of the story here. By taking the arc all the way from the calm before the storm to the months-long labor of rebuilding and reanimating, Jim Minick has brought an entire community lovingly to life. At heart, this is a book about how what’s best about our country confronts and overcomes the worst of our weather.”—David Laskin, author of The Children’s Blizzard

Without Warning is a vivid testimony to why modern-day weather forecasting deeply matters, especially to those so often in the path of these dangerous storms. But it is also a story of resiliency—a portrait of people and a town that lost almost everything but somehow found the strength to go on. It’s only through the stories of survivors that we can try to comprehend the precarious nature of tornadoes and prepare as much as one can for a phenomenon that is still so violently unpredictable.”—Holly Bailey, author of The Mercy of the Sky

“Jim Minick turns anecdote into story, and story into the personal history of an American town, a town that represents a blueprint for responding to other natural crises. The images are often haunting—the ding-ding, ding-ding of a railway crossing bell, lost photos found in a pasture ten miles away, a “mountainous grave” of debris. Twelve years of interviews and research accompany this work, allowing the author the time it takes to become familiar with people—in some sense, a neighbor. Minick wants us to witness the resilience, generosity, kindness, and capacity for change that the storm broke loose that day, amid all its terrible destruction. His hopeful voice is one worth listening to—from the book’s beginning to the wonderful epilogue that concludes it.” —Joyce Dyer, author of Pursuing John Brown: On the Trail of a Radical Abolitionist

“This is vivid, compelling narrative history with the detail, tension, and pacing of fiction, meaning it’s hard to put down. Though I’ve never been to Udall, Kansas, I feel as if I visited in 1955 and met the residents. Their stories are ones we’re all going to need more than ever. If catastrophe strikes us like it did Udall, the big question is going to be, how well will we survive as a community?”—David L. Bristow, author of Nebraska History Moments

Table of Contents

List of Illustrations

Author’s Note

1. What Used to Be

2. The Weight of It

3. What the Lightning Revealed

4. Hit by Emptiness

5. Something Shifted Inside

6. Bigness of Heart

7. People Will Return

8. Overwhelmed

9. So Many Dead

10. Distributing Kindness

11. The Long Process of Working Through

12. Something to Hold Onto

13. The Smoke of What Used to Be

14. Trying to Find Normal

15. Marching On

16. Everybody Deserves a Picture

17. Remembering

18. The People Moving Forward




Bibliographic Essay


2023 Martin Kansas History Book Award

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