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A Retrospective of the June 1953 Flint and Worcester Tornadoes. How They Happened and What We Learned. Eleanor Vallier-Talbot NOAA/NWS Taunton, MA. Flint and Worcester. Set up for development of the tornadoes Synoptic and upper air features Massive damage that occurred

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a retrospective of the june 1953 flint and worcester tornadoes

A Retrospective of the June 1953 Flint and Worcester Tornadoes

How They Happened and

What We Learned

Eleanor Vallier-Talbot

NOAA/NWS Taunton, MA

flint and worcester
Flint and Worcester
  • Set up for development of the tornadoes
    • Synoptic and upper air features
  • Massive damage that occurred
    • Photos and reports
  • Aftermath
    • Changes and updates to technology and warning system
    • Research conducted with data from these storms

Monday, June 8, 1953

1200Z Surface Map



NWS Detroit/Pontiac, MI



NWS Detroit/Pontiac, MI



NWS Detroit/Pontiac, MI

if we had satellite and radar in 1953
If we had satellite and radar in 1953…
  • Using the 21Z Mt. Clemens (60 miles SE of Flint) sounding
    • NWS Detroit developed idealized simulations
  • Satellite
    • http://www.crh.noaa.gov/dtx/1953beecher/flash.php?image=3D
  • 2 KM radar
    • http://www.crh.noaa.gov/dtx/1953beecher/flash.php?image=rad2km

Erie, MI Tornado and Waterspout --

30 miles over water

Credit: Grazulis

beecher mi june 9 1953
Beecher, MI – June 9, 1953

Credits: NOAA News

and Flint Public Library

beecher and vicinity damage
Beecher and vicinity Damage

Credit: Flint Public




NWS Detroit/Pontiac, MI

michigan ohio tornadoes
Michigan/Ohio Tornadoes
  • Large F5 tornado passed through Flint and Beecher (Only F5 in SE lower Michigan)
    • Killed 116 people…last tornado to kill over 100 people in U.S. history
    • 844 injured, occurred at 830 PM EST
    • 27 miles long, over 800 yards wide
  • Three F4 tornadoes in MI/OH
    • Temperance/Erie; Deshler/Cygnet; Kings Mill
  • Four F3 tornadoes in MI/OH
  • $19M damage (1953); $127M damage (2002 dollars)

Boston Globe

June 9, 1953


The June 9th



Tuesday, June 9, 1953

1200Z Surface Map

discussions at wbo boston
Discussions at WBO Boston
  • Knew history of this weather system and saw potential of damaging/tornadic development in Massachusetts
  • Meteorologist Al Flahive and other staff met at 10 AM to discuss mention of “Tornado” for their next forecast issuance
    • Decided against it so not to be “unnecessarily alarming”
  • Opted for first-ever severe thunderstorm forecast wording in New England issued at 1130 AM
    • “Windy, partly cloudy, hot and humid with thunderstorms, some locally severe, developing this afternoon” (Credit: Chittick)

Hand drawn map from WB

office in Worcester

“Rotating” wind damage and

3 inch diameter hail

reported in Colrain and

baseball hail in Northfield

at about 345 PM EDT

around 3 PM


Taken at 455 PM EDT

Lexington, MA

MIT Radar

Hook Echo


(Holden, MA)

Credit: BAMS


Hail in Rutland…

Next to a light bulb

Credit: Chittick


457 PM

Credit: Grazulis


Twin Funnels Seen on Brattle Street, Worcester at 508 PM

Courtesy: Chittick

Photo by: Howard Smith

Worcester Telegram & Gazette


Barograph Trace found

in north Worcester


Bottomed out at 27.54

inches at 4 PM EST


Lowest recorded

pressure in eastern U.S.

(N. of Florida)

worcester tornado near lake quinsigamond shrewsbury 522 pm
Worcester Tornadonear Lake Quinsigamond,Shrewsbury522 PM

Mile 35 – Viewed toward NNE

Funnel about one mile wide

Photo taken by the late Henry LaPrade

warning issued
Warning Issued!
  • Phone call made after 5 PM from Blue Hill Observatory (Milton, MA) to WBO Boston
    • Observer John Conover reported debris falling out of the sky
    • “…It’s coming from great heights, shingles, small branches, paper…boards several feet long…”
    • “I’m afraid there’s been a bad tornado somewhere.”
  • Forecaster Drebert agreed, issued first ever tornado warning in New England!
    • “…Caution advised on severe thunderstorms with isolated tornado activity in the Boston area between 6 and 8 PM this evening.”
    • Sent via teletype at 545 PM!! (Credit: Chittick)

and After…

Credit: Chittick


Uncantena Avenue, off Clark Street

in the upper Burncoat area

Credit: Chittick


Sheet metal wrapped around

debarked trees…

Corner of Holden St. and

Brentwood Dr., Holden, MA


Overshooting top from parent thunderstorm

as it moved away…

Estimated tops over 70,000 feet!

(B. Vonnegut & A. Bemis)

Credit: Chittick


F3 Tornado in Exeter

at about 520 PM

Hand drawn tracks of

three tornadoes that

affected New England

on June 9, 1953 from

the Worcester Weather

Bureau office

F3 Tornado from Sutton to

northern Mansfield

worcester s final statistics
Worcester’s Final Statistics
  • F4 damage
    • On ground 84 minutes and 46 miles, up to one mile wide
  • 94 people killed, 1300 injured (#4 in U.S.)
  • 4000 buildings damaged or destroyed
  • Debris found in the Boston area and on Cape Cod
    • Frozen mattress found in Massachusetts Bay near Weymouth
    • Books and clothing found at Blue Hill and on outer Cape Cod (Provincetown/Chatham/Eastham <110 miles away>)
  • Reports of hail from Portland-Bangor-Eastport, ME
    • 1/4 to 3/4 inch in squall line, no tornadoes reported
  • $52.1M damage (1953 dollars); $1.14B (1997 dollars <adjusted for wealth & inflation>)
  • Recently formed Weather Bureau Severe Weather Unit (SWU) in mid 1952 (SPC history)
    • Did well in forecasting the Iowa and Flint tornadoes, but “caught by surprise” by New England tornadoes on June 9, especially the severity of the Worcester storm
    • Renamed Severe Local Storms Warning Center (SELS) on June 17, 1953
      • Reorganized in part because of these storms as well as Waco, TX in May (114 dead)
    • One forecaster and SELS supervisor requested transfer out of unit by end of 1953
    • Moved to Kansas City from Washington in 1954
  • Worcester Rating re-assessment
    • Blue ribbon committee held in summer 2005 to possibly re-rate tornado to an F5
    • Only storm other than Hurricane Andrew that this was done for
  • Eventual deployment of weather radar nationwide
    • Research radar at MIT saw Worcester tornado, only the 4th tornado seen on radar at that time
  • Warning system
    • Noted that several warnings were received by various agencies in central Massachusetts, but never passed on to other communities
    • Eventual development of warning system for emergency management and citizens
    • Improvement of radio and television communications
  • Cloud electrification of severe thunderstorms
    • Paper in Atmospheric Research in 1999 in honor of Bernard Vonnegut (Williams, et al)
      • Vonnegut researched severe storms, lightning and tornadic activity after his experience with Worcester tornado
    • Vonnegut and Bemus noted from 600-1200 flashes per minute in the Worcester storm
      • Only visual observation of stroke rate in nighttime tornadic supercell
      • Lightning from the storm could be seen offshore until midnight June 10
  • Debris fallout from tornadic thunderstorms
    • Former Tornado Debris Project out of Oklahoma University
      • Used Worcester reports in their historic research for BAMS article in 1995 (J. Snow, et al)
credits and references
Credits and References
  • Significant Tornadoes 1680 – 1991 by Thomas P. Grazulis
  • What Is So Rare as a Day in June: Worcester Tornado June 9, 1953 (Multimedia presentation)by William Chittick
  • Tornado! 84 Minutes, 94 Lives by John O’Toole
  • “The Squall Line and Massachusetts Tornadoes of June 9, 1953,” Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), Vol. 36 No. 3, March 1955, pp. 109-122.
  • NOAA Central Library Data Imaging Project – U.S. Daily Weather Maps (online)
credits and references40
Credits and References
  • Plymouth State College WXP NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis Map Generator (online)
  • Boston Globe
  • Worcester Telegram and Gazette
  • NWS Taunton archival data
  • NWS Detroit/Pontiac, MI website
    • http://www.crh.noaa.gov/dtx/1953beecher/
  • NOAA News Online, May 5, 2003 article
  • Flint, MI, Public Library
    • http://www.flint.lib.mi.us/gallery/beechertornado/ index.shtml