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The Deadly Tornado Year of 1953

| December 5, 2008 @ 10:29 pm | 1 Reply

The year 1953 is far and away the most deadly for tornadoes in the United States since 1950, when reliable tornado statistics began. A total of 519 people were killed across the country that year. On March 13th, an F4 tornado destroyed much of Knox City, Texas, Seventeen people died. On April 30th, a late afternoon F4 struck Warner Robbins, Georgia. The Air Force Base was especially hard hit. A total of nineteen fatalities were recorded.

But on May 11, 1953, things turned really deadly. Conditions favored severe weather over Central Texas, and the U.S. Weather Bureau in New Orleans issued a tornado forecast for Central Texas. It was the second year of public tornado forecasts, and it was a good one. A tornado struck San Angelo around 2:15 p.m. Despite good advance warning, thirteen people still died. But around 4:30, streets were crowded with pedestrians and cars as a huge F5 tornado roared directly into downtown Waco with little warning. Indian legend said that Waco was immune to tornadoes, and many believed the myth. People sought shelter in downtown buildings that became death traps as the massive tornado pulverized them. A total of 114 people died in the tornado.

Less than one month later, an outbreak of tornadoes over southern Michigan on June 8th created tremendous havoc. Ten twisters were reported that day. The biggest, an F5 monster that struck Flint, Michigan, killed 116 people. The Flint-Beecher tornado is the last tornado to ever kill 100 people in the United States. The fledgling Severe Weather Unit at the Weather Bureau did issue a tornado forecast for Ohio and Michigan. The very next day, conditions looked favorable for severe weather over New England. But big tornadoes just didn’t happen in the Northeast, so a tornado forecast was not issued. Meteorologists at the Weather Bureau in Boston did mention severe storms and even tornadoes in their issuances that day. The tornado that ripped through Worcester, MA was just as bad as any of its Midwestern counterparts. It killed 94 people along a 46 mile path.

Things quieted down until early December. Nine people died across northern Louisiana on December 3rd. Two days later, the streets of Vicksburg, Mississippi were thick with holiday shoppers on a busy Saturday afternoon that day. There was mention of one of those tornado forecasts. Issued at 1:10 p.m., it covered an area from Tyler, Texas to Little Rock to Clarksdale, Mississippi to Monroe, Louisiana and back to Tyler. Parents and kids crowded into the Saenger Theatre for a matinee. As an early darkness settled on the Mississippi River town, an inky black funnel roared directly into the downtown area. Buildings collapsed, including the Saenger. A four block area of downtown was demolished. A total of thirty eight people, including several children, died in the terrible F4 tornado.

Think how crazy the weather must have seemed to people in 1953. I bet lots of folks shook their heads and commented, “I’ve never seen worse weather.” When it comes to deadly tornadoes, they had a point.

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About the Author ()

Bill Murray is the President of The Weather Factory. He is the site's official weather historian and a weekend forecaster. He also anchors the site's severe weather coverage. Bill Murray is the proud holder of National Weather Association Digital Seal #0001 @wxhistorian

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