Far from Tornado Alley, Death and Destruction is a Surprise

On the first day of the 2011 hurricane season, in my hometown on the Massachusetts South Shore, Wednesday, June 1, 2011 started out with an early morning downpour with hail. However, late morning through the afternoon turned sunny. From all appearances, it was going to be a very pleasant day despite a 1 P.M. severe weather warning and a tornado watch. By early evening very ominous grey and black clouds, hovering close to the ground and moving fast with high winds, torrential rain and hail ruled our weather.

All of New England and the Eastern Seaboard from the Carolinas to Maine experienced advancing cold, dry air that collided with rising hot, humid air creating destructive thunderstorms with gusty winds and large hail during the afternoon and early evening. By late evening, the sweep of dry, cooler air swept the storms out to sea.

I suspect all regions experienced similar weather to my morning and afternoon. However, somewhere around 4:30 P.M. and lasting to about 7:30 P.M. those ominous grey and black clouds turned deadly for central and western Massachusetts: A tornado rolled across West Springfield and the Connecticut River into Springfield, the third largest city in Massachusetts, and apparently, another rolled into the communities of Monson and Brimfield. As of Thursday, the weather services declared that at least three EF3 or EF4 separate tornadoes had struck. The death toll stands at four, dozens injured, with numerous homes and businesses destroyed. In the Springfield area, the tornado hit at evening rush hour destroying trucks and cars. There was severe damage to nineteen communities. More than forty-thousand homes and businesses lost power. Utility crews from Connecticut and New Hampshire are working to restore service.

Tornadoes are not new to Massachusetts. Between 1950 and 1995 there have been 135 tornadoes spread over twelve counties. That’s an average of three per year. Within this same timeframe in Plymouth County, where my home is located, we have experienced eight EF0 to EF2 tornadoes. On Tuesday, June 9, 1953 at quarter past three in the afternoon, one of the single-deadliest tornadoes on U.S. record struck Worcester. Categorized as an F4 with winds of at least 207 mph it killed 94 people and injured over 1,228 others. However, Wednesday’s tornado is the first experienced since 2008, according to the Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Oklahoma.

In a region far from “Tornado Alley” that is far more accustomed to snowstorms it was completely unexpected. Peter Judge, a spokesman for the state’s emergency management agency said, “It was obviously an incredible surprise, “We’d been monitoring the weather all day and by early afternoon nobody was overly concerned.”

In the wake of the tornadoes, and severe weather damages, Governor Deval Patrick declared a State of Emergency, which allows the Governor to call up National Guard troops to assist in rescue and response efforts, will remain in effect for the four counties that were most severely impacted by the storms: Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin and Worcester.

Related Video: Tornado in Brimfield MA, June 1, 2011


Katie Storbeck, Meteorologist, Four Killed in Massachusetts Tornadoes, AccuWeather.com