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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.


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.

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.


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.


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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