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'Race Day' tornadoes: 18 year later

In all, there were 23 tornadoes statewide May 30, 2004, which caused $13 million in damage in central Indiana.
Credit: WTHR

INDIANAPOLIS — Eighteen years ago, tornadoes in central Indiana surrounded the Greatest Spectacle in Racing on May 30, 2004.

I'll never forget this day as I working down the street at another station and vividly remember coming to work with a pit in my stomach, aware of the volatile setup that was upon us. By the time I arrived, central Indiana had been placed under a rare High Risk for severe weather, and my confidence of verifying this was high — no pun intended.

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A true powder keg of weather elements came together that day, surging a late-day warm front accompanied by tropical air/dewpoints of 70+, a strong cold front to aid 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.

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May 30, 2004 northeast of Mooresville on I-70 courtesy of NWS Indianapolis

The end result was multiple tornadic supercells that produced 15 tornadoes in central Indiana.

The most notable occurred just 6 miles south of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway that was full of race fans for the Indy 500, which was won by Buddy Rice in a rain/storm-shortened affair. This tornado tracked just 4 miles south of downtown Indianapolis and Gainbridge Fieldhouse — Conseco Fieldhouse at the time — that was full of fans for the Pacers vs. Pistons playoff game. It reached EF2 status on the southeast side of Indianapolis.

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Unfortunately, there was a fatality due to lightning in Veedersburg in Fountain County. 

In all, there were 23 tornadoes statewide May 30, 2004, which caused $13 million in damage in central Indiana. More information about the outbreak can be found on the NWS Indianapolis page.

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Nationally, there were 100 reports of tornadoes and nearly 900 reports of severe weather. This was one day I'll never forget.

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