Path length: 57.3 miles
Width: 130 yards
County: Kankakee (IL) / Newton, Jasper, Pulaski (IN)
An F4 tornado traveled 70 miles from NW of Essex, IL to just west of Medaryville, IN on this day in 1963. Per Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes, “In Illinois, damage was near-F5 as several houses literally vanished.” The SPC lists the max width at 130 yards. 70 injuries were reported and 1 fatality.
I found a very well-written, in depth overview of this event from Jim Alsopp, retired Warning Coordination Meteorologist at the NWS Chicago. I use his research a great deal in this summary. Access his summary here.
He gives the following details about the 1 fatality from this tornado: “A 24 year old woman, who had just adopted a baby, was running across the yard, possibly to get in a ditch, with her baby in her arms, when she was struck by debris and killed. She was the tornado’s only fatality. She was found with the baby still cradled in her arms. The baby survived.”
Storm Data Narrative
A note on the narratives from the April 1963 Storm Data Publication: It groups together 2 tornadoes. The one that is the subject of this summary and another in Wabash, Whitley and Allen Counties (IN).
Per the SPC, they list the Kankakee/NW IN tornado. They also have an F2 that moved through Wabash and Whitley Counties (IN) and another F2 that moved through Huntington and Allen Counties (IN). Thomas Grazulis only mentions one of these F2s in his book: Huntington/Allen.
Here are the narratives:
Illinois portion: Tornado apparently first touched ground 3 miles NW of Bonfield (13 WNW of center of Kankakee) and traveled about 30 miles in a direction of approximately 110 degrees before crossing Indiana line. Much of the path was across relatively open farm areas with damage limited to clusters of farm buildings and trees. Most concentrated damage occurred just north of Kankakee in towns of Bourbonnais and Bradley; and in village of Exline to northeast of Kankaee. Personal observations indicated a speed near 20 mph at one time but both radar and personal observations indicated an average speed of near 40 mph.
Indiana portion: This tornado first touched ground west-northwest of Kankakee, IL then traveled eastward to almost Medaryville, IN. The mother cloud mass is believed to have traveled on eastward as far as Fort Wayne touching ground near such places as North Manchester where all buildings on two farms were leveled, then South Whitley, Roanoke (damages $100,000), and finally two miles southwest of Baer Field, Fort Wayne (damages $50,000). The greatest loss was in Jasper County about 1.5 miles north of Gifford and just south of Laura and Asphaltum along a west-east line where 21 buildings were counted from the air as being badly damaged or destroyed. Nineteen were gone from their foundations of which seven were homes. Many people were injured in this area, sixteen were hospitalized. Jasper County damage was estimated by the American Red Cross at $650,000.
On eastward at about 5:50pm, a funnel cloud was seen from Star City, large hail was reported at Star City and Royal Center, and near South Whitley (6:45pm). Hail was one inch in size at Baer Field, Fort Wayne, and up to 1 3/4 inches within one mile of the Field. Near Poe, a farmer reported getting stuck with the farm truck in hail 1.5 feet deep in his farm lane. Ice was still two inches deep the next morning.
Additional Path/Damage Information from Jim Alsopp from the NWS Chicago
- The funnel was first observed near a gravel pit 6 miles west of Essex around 330 PM. The condensation funnel may not have been completely visible initially, as there were reports of just a funnel cloud, or tornado touching down then lifting back up.
- The funnel was later reported by a weather observer thirteen miles west of Kankakee or three miles northwest of Bonfield at 355 PM.
- The observer later reported the tornado on the ground six miles west of Kankakee at around 403 PM. Between Essex and the Kankakee River, damage was mostly barns destroyed, houses damaged, and trees downed.
- A wooded area was leveled near County Roads 4000N and 11000W. A barn was destroyed near 9000W and 4000N.
- The tornado had been moving on a course of 110 degrees, or just south of due east. It turned northeast briefly as it crossed the Kankakee River, possibly due to effects of terrain. It hit the Country Fare restaurant on Route 113, along the west side of the Kankakee River. A farmer found the front door of the Country Fare in his field, on the east side of the river. After crossing the river the tornado once again moved east southeast.
- The tornado did some of its worst damage north of Kankakee at Bourbonnais and Bradley. The tornado seemed to have slowed and moved somewhat erratically through this area.
- It moved through the Indian Hills subdivision, also known as Sportsman Club, just east of the Kankakee River and west of Bourbonnais, off Route 102. Two houses were leveled to the foundation and others were severely damaged.
- A 24 year old woman, who had just adopted a baby, was running across the yard, possibly to get in a ditch, with her baby in her arms, when she was struck by debris and killed. She was the tornado’s only fatality. She was found with the baby still cradled in her arms. The baby survived.
- The tornado severely damaged half a dozen homes near the intersection of Route 102/Main Street and 45/52. One home had the second story roof removed, while a baby and another small child were napping in an upstairs bedroom. The children survived.
- The tornado appeared to be headed for Route 45 and Armour Road when it turned south and hit Maternity BVM Church, damaging the dome and several imported stained glass windows, and partially lifting the roof.
- The tornado damaged an old boys school, then hit Olivet Nazarene College at 420 PM, causing heavy damage to the top floor of the administration building. Several classroom buildings and the gymnasium sustained roof damage, and a 100 foot smokestack was toppled.
- The tornado then hit a mobile home park for married college students, on the east side of campus, known as Trailerville. Fifty to sixty house trailers were demolished.
- The tornado crossed the Illinois Central tracks and unroofed an Armour Pharmaceutical Plant near Route 50 and North Street in Bradley. For the next 3 1⁄2 miles the tornado moved through open fields, missing farmsteads. The width of the path at this point was about 110 yards.
- Next, the tornado hit the small farming community of Exline, four miles east of Bradley around 430 PM, damaging a dozen buildings. Every building in Exline was damaged or destroyed. A bridge spanning a creek was lifted and twisted off its foundation. At the Kankakee River, three cottages were severely damaged, trees were blown down, and a house was destroyed. A bit further east, a tank was carried half a mile and buried in soil. Houses were severely damaged south of Momence.
- Eastward to the Indiana state line, farm buildings were destroyed. At the state line, a swath was cut through a wooded area. The tornado entered Newton County Indiana around County Road 800N, and passed just south of Lake Village. The path through the state line area and northern Newton County was very rural. Most of the damage was to trees and farm buildings. Two houses were damaged near Route 55 and about 750N.
- The tornado was moving almost due east as it cut through northern Jasper County. Near Route 49 and 600 N, just north of Gifford, a line of houses was leveled to the ground and 20 people were injured. A potato processing plant, outbuildings, and machinery were destroyed. The tornado finally dissipated just across the Pulaski County line, just north of Medaryville around 530 PM CST.
We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the April 1963 Storm Data Publication, Jim Alsopp’s Summary and Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and found the following differences:
- SPC/NCDC have a path length of 57.3 miles.
- Storm Data lists the length as 30 miles in IL and 35 miles in IN.
- Grazulis has a 70 mile path.
- Jim Alsopp explains in his summary, “The damage survey lists the tornado as having a 57 mile path. However, Dr. Fujita of University of Chicago and Joe Goldman of the Severe Storms Research Project of University of Illinois also surveyed the tornado’s path and determined there was continuous damage for 70 miles.”
- SPC/NCDC and Storm Data list width at 130 yards.
- Grazulis has a width of 200 yards.
- Jim Alsopp states the path width of the tornado varied from 10 yards to 500 yards. On average it was around 100 yards.
Violent, Long-Tracked Tornado Struck Kankakee County and Northwest Indiana 50 Years Ago – By Jim Allsopp, Retired Warning Coordination Meteorologist from NWS Chicago
Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 1045.
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