National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Lexington Tornado
March 10, 1986

This was one of the worst tornadoes ever to strike Lexington.  The tornado began in the vicinity of Tates Creek Road and Man O War Boulevard shortly before 5pm.  A barn was destroyed near the intersection of Wilson Downing Road and Tates Creek Road.  The twister, about 100 yards wide, traveled to the northeast, heavily damaging Gainesway, Southeastern Hills, and many neighborhoods along Man O War Boulevard before lifting at Richmond Road across the street from Saint Joseph East Hospital.  Park Hills Shopping Center was damaged, and Pimlico Parkway and Mammoth Drive were badly hit.  Roofs were torn off at Ak-Sar-Ben Park.  Overall, 845 homes were damaged, 200 of them near-F3.  Twenty people were injured, and damages totalled $50,000,000 (in 2011 dollars).

Heavy damage was seen on Green River Court and at 3576 Pimlico Parkway.  The roof at 3245 Mammoth Drive flew into the Park Hills Shopping Center, 1240 Ascot Park was badly damaged, and the houses at 3576 Bold Bidder and 1248 Ak-Sar-Ben Park were destroyed.  Somewhat lighter damage was noted on Personality Court, Sundart Drive, Centre Parkway, and River Park Drive in Gainesway.  A man at 3576 Bold Bidder broke his neck when a brick wall collapsed on him.  About 150 families required emergency shelter. 

Originally, the head of the local National Weather Service office in Lexington, Jim Speray, claimed that the damage was done by a downburst rather than by a tornado, with winds of 100 to 200 mph.  He later changed his ruling to an F2 tornado.  Tornado expert Dr. Ted Fujita (or possibly students of his) surveyed the damage.  By coincidence, this was the date of the annual statewide tornado drill test. 

Jim Barnes of 1448 Canonero Drive said he was grilling steaks in his driveway.  "When I flipped one of the steaks and it didn't come back down, I knew it was time to go inside." 

Streets that suffered damage (other than those listed above):  Atokad Park, Aztec Circle, Big Ben Court, Carlsbad Court, Carriage Lane, Custer Drive, Custer Lake Court, Dale Drive, East Hills Drive, Glacier Court, Golden Gate Park, Mount Rainier Drive, Packanack Court, Personality Court, Pipestone Court, Rocky Mount Court, Stephen Foster Drive, Shoal Lake Drive, Squires Circle, Squires Road, Tates Brook Drive, Travis Court, Tuscaloosa Lane, Woodview Drive, and Yosemite Circle.

If you experienced this storm and would like to share your memories or photos, please feel free to e-mail us!

Stories from people who rode out the storm:
1305 Sequoia Drive

Ascot Park
Sundart Drive
3225 Mammoth Drive


Track map:

Track map of the tornado that struck Lexington, Kentucky on March 10, 1986

Pictures taken of Ak-Sar-Ben Park (Ron Garrison/Lexington Herald-Leader):

ak-sar-ben park

aksarben park



1305 Sequoia Drive
Bill Slone

I remember this storm vividly.  I lived at 1305 Sequoia Drive, which is near the intersection with Sundart Drive in Derby Estates.

I was not aware of any severe storm alerts that evening.  I was working in my garage when I noticed the wind had suddenly picked up and the wide garage door (closed) began shaking violently, for maybe 20-30 seconds.  I ran into the adjacent living space to check on my wide and two sons, show were fine.

By that time things had calmed down outside -- it seemed to be over as quickly as it started.  I went outside and looked around.  I could hear several sirens, and I looked east toward Ak-Sar-Ben in the distance and could see houses with missing roofs -- that was the first indication I saw of the severity of the event.  I turned on my police scanner and heard them talking about someone trapped in a damaged house on Bold Bidder.

The house next door, at 1301 Sequoia on the corner of Sequoia and Sundart, had several deck boards from another neighbor's house plunged vertically, like warrior's spears, into their front yard.  One board was stuck into the house's eave fascia, having punched a hole right into it.

At another house nearby all the water had been sucked out of their swimming pool.

My house had a single-car auxiliary garage added on the west side.  The garage did not have traditional sash window -- instead storm windows with two thin sliding panes of glass had been used.  One of the windows was broken, and the glass shards were in a small pile perhaps thirty feet from the window.  At the rear of the garage the curtains had been sucked out between the two overlapping glass panels.

I surveyed our house for damage, and luckily the broken window and a few missing shingles were the only damage I found.  My theory is that the funnel cloud went over the house but perhaps was not fully down to the ground.

Here are some photos.  Click on the image for a larger version.



Lexington Tornado March 10, 1986 Lexington Tornado March 10, 1986 Lexington Tornado March 10, 1986
Boards in the front yard of 1301 Sequoia, from the deck belonging to the house across the street in the photo. A deck board speared into the front yard at 1301 Sequoia. A deck board stuck into the eave fascia.


Ascot Park
Grace Plunkett

I remember my dogs barking, and I could tell there was a storm approaching, so I brought them in.  I normally was scared of storms so I had my 11-month and 2-year-old on each side of me and I was watching the news.  I walked up the hallway to change the diaper on my 11-month-old when I noticed the wind starting to pick up.  I felt the air pressure inside change.  I looked out my bathroom window and saw my privacy fence panel break off and flip in the air just like the gate in The Wizard of Oz.  That's when I knew there was a problem.  Immediately after that I could not see out the window as it was all brown.  By the time I got the children into the hallway the tornado had passed over.  The fifth house down from me suffered major damage as did many others on my court.

One of the houses had a little dog.  It just climbed out of the rubble.  My neighbor was babysitting several children.  She told me she just had a feeling and screamed to her children to hit the floor.  They all did and her big picture window blew into her living room.  Thankfully no one was hurt.

I do know this, I have never been so scared in my life.  I am very thankful my children and neighbor's children were not hurt.  We all need to take preparation for a tornado seriously and have a plan in place -- it took seconds for this tornado to hit.


Sundart Drive
Richard Smithers

Mine was one of the homes damaged on Sundart Drive.  I rode out the storm in my basement and watched my garage door bow inward from the pressure.  A white cloud of fog was blowing under the door and looked much the same as if we were flying through a cloud in an airplane.


3225 Mammoth Drive
Joe Anderson

I was 9 years-old and am mentioned in one of the articles in the Herald Leader (“People Screamed, Huddled in Fear”).  I was in my dad’s 1971 Chevy Nova because we were waiting for my mom to get home.  I finished my homework and fell asleep.  I woke up to the car rocking left and right and I yelled “What is going on!”  My dad said “Son, I think we are on the tail-end of a tornado.”  I then saw a 16-foot canoe that was in our neighbor's yard come off the ground, spin around like on an axis, then stop and shoot straight at our car.  Luckily, the ’71 Nova took it like a champ.  My dad pushed me down across the front seats, covered me with his arms, and we didn’t move until it was over.  We were outside 3225 Mammoth Drive and our neighbors across the street had their car at the convenient store in Park Hills Shopping Center and it was one of the vehicles destroyed by the roof of nearby house.  Our house was relatively untouched, which was odd because of the heavy damage all around us.