Remembering the 2004 Race Day tornadoes, 15 years later

Fans scurried for shelter as a tornado warning was issued during the Indianapolis 500 on May 30, 2004. (WTHR photos)

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Thursday marks the 15-year anniversary of the "Race Day" tornadoes in central Indiana on May 30, 2004.

As the 88th Running of the Indianapolis 500 went on between rain showers, central Indiana was placed under a "high risk" for severe weather. As meteorologist Sean Ash recalls, "a true powder keg of weather elements came together that day, a surging late-day warm front accompanied by tropical air/dewpoints of 70+, strong cold front to aid in lift, low-level jet stream of 60+mph, diverging wind aloft to support deep updrafts, and significant wind shear to allow storms to rotate almost instantaneously."

The end result was multiple tornadic supercells that produced 15 tornadoes in central Indiana. The most notable occurred just six miles south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, packed full of race fans. The race was shortened to 180 laps as IMS video boards notified fans of the tornado warning for Marion County, urging the hundreds of thousands in attendance to seek shelter. Race winner Buddy Rice celebrated his victory in the team garage on Gasoline Alley.

The tornado tracked just four miles south of downtown Indianapolis and Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Conseco Fieldhouse at the time) that was full of fans for the Pistons-Pacers playoff game. It reached F2 status on the southeast side of Indy.

One person in Veedersburg in Fountain County died from a lightning strike. In all the tornadoes, some $13 million in damages was calculated from 23 tornadoes statewide.

More information about the outbreak can be found here on the NWS Indianapolis page.

Filed under: