Tornado Season: Remembering 1953 and 2011

It’s a beautiful, sunny day as I write. Our seemingly endless stretch of rainy days that have been great for trees but dreary for humans has finally broken, and it looks like a fine weekend ahead.

On a beautiful June day like this, it’s hard to imagine a tornado striking Central Massachusetts. But on a muggy June 9, 1953, a devastating EF-4 tornado dropped out of a roiling black cloud near the Quabbin reservoir and hurtled southeast toward Worcester on a 46 mile, 84-minute course of utter destruction.

The Worst Tornado in New England History
Packing winds of up to 338 miles per hour, the mushroom-cloud-shaped funnel exploded homes, pulverized stores, scattered cars like playing cards and sucked out trees by the roots. It ripped off the roof of Norton Company’s brand new machine tool division, crushed half of Assumption College and leveled its convent.

When the storm finally lost force, 94 people were dead, hundreds were injured and thousands, homeless. In Worcester alone, the twister caused more than $37 million in property damage, including more than $285,000 in damage to the city water system, streets and trees.

To help rebuild, the Parks and Recreation Department replanted 1,000 street trees that had been tossed and shredded by one of the most powerful tornadoes in U.S. history. You can see a slide show of the storm here.

Below is an excerpt from a ‘50s documentary about the storm:

10,000 Acres of Woodlands Destroyed by 2011 Western Mass Tornado
June also marks the one-year anniversary of the violent tornado that struck Western Massachusetts. On June 1, 2011, a day of unstable weather caused a supercell thunderstorm that spawned the EF-3 twister, which travelled 39 miles, from Westfield to Charlton, blasting everything in its path.

Three people were killed and 200 injured; 1,400 homes and at least 78 businesses were either damaged or destroyed. Property insurance claims throughout Western and Central Massachusetts exceeded $200 million. The tornado tore through the Brimfield State Forest, reaching its maximum width of a half mile. Almost 10,000 acres of woodlands were destroyed in the storm’s path, as well as 7,500 mature trees in Springfield, alone. Here’s a report from Springfield’s WSHN CBS3 TV:

Springfield and surrounding towns are still rebuilding, and massive reforestation efforts are underway. Still, the memories are jarring. Even today, 59 years after the great Worcester tornado, people who lived through it recall the panic and horror.

In New England, peak tornado season lasts from late spring through early summer. We have a few weeks to go. Here’s hoping the sun keeps shining and we won’t be making more tornado history any time soon.

Evelyn Herwitz is the author of  Trees at Risk: Reclaiming an Urban Forest and blogs about ALB prevention and tree stewardship at treesatrisk.com. She predicted the 2008 Asian Longhorned Beetle infestation of Worcester, Mass., in her book, published by Chandler House Press in 2001.

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