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June 9, 1953, Worcester, Massachusetts F4 Tornado

On June 7, 1953, an area of high pressure developed over much of the Northern United States. This high-pressure air mass collided with a low pressure system that was centered over Nebraska, creating favorable conditions for severe thunderstorm development. This collision of systems spawned several tornadoes in the states of Michigan, Ohio, and Nebraska, most notably the Flint-Beecher F5 tornado on June 8. The storm killed 116 people in the towns of Flint and Beecher, and injured over 800. In addition, seven other tornadoes across the region caused 52 more injuries and nine more fatalities.

Overnight, the cold air mass, along with a cold front, moved eastward into New York and the New England area. In the days before the storm, the New England region was experiencing unseasonably warm temperature, with a highs at or near 90 °F on June 6. However, the cold air mass, an unusually strong one, lowered temperatures across the region. The temperature in Worcester dropped over 15 degrees to 74 °F on June 8. The presence of the air mass created the chance for warm air from the Southern United States to clash with the cold front. This is something that would not normally happen in the New England region.

Forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Boston believed that there was a possibility for tornadic activity in the area, but decided not to include it in their forecast for the day in fear that they would cause panic among local citizens. In 1953 a new process was being used, that was the first year that tornado and severe thunderstorm warnings were used. Forecasters compromised and issued the first severe thunderstorm watch in the history of Massachusetts. Because of this, the tornado struck with little to no warning for residents. Do not be surprised or have little warning, allow MyWARN to notify you anytime that severe weather threatens you. MyWARN will alert you on watches, warnings and even risk that are issued for you location.

Rain fell across Worcester County throughout the day on June 9. In New York, a strong cluster of thunderstorms began to build, moving eastward into Massachusetts. At approximately 4:25 pm , a funnel cloud formed near the Quabbin Reservoir near New Salem. Very soon after, a tornado spawned from the funnel cloud, touching down in a forest outside of the rural community of Petersham. The tornado then proceeded to pass through a farm field, where it struck a farmhouse and killed two people. As the storm moved eastward at approximately 35 mph, it hit the towns of Rutland and Holden, where 11 people were killed. At about 5:00 pm, the tornado moved into the city of Worcester, alarming many residents. According to eyewitness accounts, the storm moved in extremely quickly, shocking the townsfolk. “I saw it grow noticeably darker,” said eyewitness George Carlson, “Then it hit. Houses tumbled, trees fell, and it was all over. The tornado was definitely discernible. Like when you can see the lines of rain in an approaching rainstorm,” he added. The tornado, which had grown to a mile wide, destroyed several structures in Northern Worcester, including parts of Assumption College as seen in the picture.  Other major structures included a newly-built factory and a large residential development were heavily damaged. As the storm then passed through Worcester, it killed 60. After striking Worcester, it killed 21 more people in the towns of Shrewsbury, Southborough, and Westborough, before dissipating over Framingham. According to National Weather Service estimates, over 10,000 people were left homeless as a result of the tornado.The funnel maintained its 1-mile width as it passed throughout much of Shrewsbury, and still did a high amount of damage when it moved through downtown Westborough, where it began curving towards the northeast in its final leg. In the storm’s final moments, 3 were killed when Fayville Post Office in Southborough collapsed. Around the time it ended 5:45 pm, a tornado warning was issued, although by then it was too late.

In total, 94 people were killed, making it the 21st deadliest tornado in the history of the United States. In addition to the fatalities, over 1,000 people were injured and 4,000 buildings were damaged. The tornado caused $52 million in damage, which is equivalent to over $350 million today. After the Fujita scale was developed in 1971, the storm was classified as “F4″, the second highest rating on the scale.

The tornadoes of this outbreak are also related together in the public mind because, for a brief period following the Worcester tornado, it was debated in the U.S. Congress whether recent atomic bomb testing in the upper atmosphere had caused the tornadoes. Congressman James E. Van Zandt (R-Penn.) was among several members of Congress who expressed their belief that the June 4th bomb testing created the tornadoes, which occurred far outside the traditional tornado alley. Meteorologists quickly dispelled such an assertion, and Congressman Van Zandt later retracted his statement.

Photo c/o RadioBoston

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