Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Massachusetts’ Tornado Alley

This week marks the 5th anniversary of the last deadly tornado to hit Massachusetts on June 1, 2011 that killed 3 and devastated parts of Springfield and central Massachusetts, hitting especially hard in the small town of Monson. Although tornadoes are a rare occurrence in Massachusetts, the state has had a number of deadly tornadoes throughout history with Worcester County claiming the title of “Massachusetts’ tornado alley” with 42 tornadoes recorded since 1950. In fact, the first probable recorded tornado sighting was made by Massachusetts Bay Colony governor John Winthrop in his journal on July 5, 1643 of a “sudden gust” in northeastern Massachusetts that downed “multitudes of tress” and “lifted up [a] meeting house at Newbury.” He reported that one Native American was killed by a falling tree as a result of the storm.

The most deadly tornado to hit Massachusetts rated a strong F4 on the Fujita Scale and occurred 63 years ago on June 9, 1953. The tornado formed over the Quabbin Reservoir in Petersham and tracked through Barre, Rutland and Holden, continuing through the city of Worcester and then through the central Massachusetts towns of Shrewsbury, Westborough, and Southborough. The storm left 94 dead, 1,300 injured, and 15,000 homeless in its wake and still ranks as the 20th most deadly tornado in the United States to this day. The fury of the storm even carried debris over 110 miles to Eastham on Cape Cod. The day of the 1953 Worcester tornado was the first time in the history of Massachusetts that a severe thunderstorm watch had been issued and although forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Boston believed there was
a possibility for a tornado, they did not issue a warning to that effect for fear they would cause a panic among local citizens. As a result, this failure was the impetus for the implementation of a nationwide radar and storm spotter service by the Storm Prediction Center to provide daily storm predictions and advance warning of potentially deadly storms that has definitely saved lives in the years that have followed.

The State Library’s collections contain a fascinating, eyewitness chronicle of the 1953 Tornado by John M. O’Toole called Tornado! 84 Minutes, 94 Lives, a photograph collection of views of the devastation at the Great Valley Housing Project in Worcester, as well as two pictorial books on the destruction caused by the 2011 tornado:  Path of Fury and The 39-Mile Path of Destruction.

Judy Carlstrom
Technical Services