SPC Stats

Path length: 11.3 miles

Width:  1400 yards

Fatalities:  3

Injuries:  500

Rating:  F4

County:  Hartford

On October 3, 1979, a significant tornado hit without warning in Hartford County, CT.  This was one of the most destructive twisters to ever hit the state of Connecticut.  There was another F4 to hit New Haven County, CT on July 10, 1989 which caused similar monetary damage.  This 1979 tornado though is the deadliest tornado on record for Connecticut (1950-present). There were three fatalities. The deadliest known tornado in Connecticut was the 1878 Wallingford tornado – 34 killed on August 9, 1878.  (Grazulis, 596).

The Storm Prediction Center shows this tornado moving 11.3 miles through Hartford County, CT only.  Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes has a slightly longer path of 18 miles and includes Hamden County, MA in the path.  We read several articles that state that this F4 did cross over the state line and ended closer to the Feeding Hills/Agawam area.  From the October 5, 1979 Hartford Courant:

In an online article from WWLP from October 3, 2017, they look back at the Windsor tornado.  They mention the path from the Poquonock section of Windsor, through Windsor locks and Suffield and then ending “over the state line into Feeding Hills.”

When we plotted the starting and ending latitude and longitude points provided by the SPC, the tornado ends in Hampden County, MA.  They have the point though SW of the Feeding Hills area.   Hampden County should be included in the tornado path. 

Textbook F4 damage occurred in the Poquonock area of Windsor, particularly along Hollow Brook Road. Here, several homes were swept off their foundation, leaving exposed basements. Trees were stripped and debarked. It moved through St. Joseph Cemetery where numerous tombstones were toppled over, and trees were shredded and debarked. Along the Highway 20/Route 75 interchanges, several businesses were damaged or destroyed. Rice Hardware Store was destroyed. Hartford National Bank was flattened. The Koala Hotel was unroofed, and debris damaged cars in the parking lot. It crossed Highway 20 and moved north along Route 75 through Windsor Locks, damaging or destroying numerous businesses. Franks’s Diner was completely destroyed. The roof was ripped off the Ford Dealership. A car wash was leveled.

Per the Storm Data entry, over 100 houses and buildings were “reduced to rubble.” At Bradley Air Museum, 16 planes were demolished.  This included one weighing 100 tons.  13 other aircraft were severely damaged.  Some of the aircraft were thrown and landed upside down on top of automobiles and across streets.  Hangar roofs were blown off.  

Grazulis documents the following event:  “A “727” jet airliner was landing at the time of the tornado.  The pilot saw the funnel and pulled out of the landing pattern.  The plane was on instruments due to the rain.  The tornado path was parallel to and just 100 feet east of the north-south runway.”  Here is an article about this incident from The Journal News (White Plains, New York).

“Pilot’s Heroic Flying During Tornado Remembered 40 Years Later” – via nbconnecticut.com

He also notes that cancelled checks from Windsor Locks were found in the southern parts of Vermont.  This is about 50 miles to the north.

Sadly, three were killed by this tornado.  William Kowalsky was killed on Route 75 while sitting in his truck and was killed by flying lumber.  He was on a construction job for the Dufford Construction Company.  His co-worker Michael Vendette was also in the truck.  He died of his injuries several weeks after the event.  Carole Dembkoski was killed as her Settler Circle home was being destroyed. 

Sue Banks was a survivor of the Windsor tornado. She recounted her experience with the event in an article from the Windsor Historical Society. She, a friend and both of their children were caught by surprise in their home by the tornado. This was their experience:

“I could feel my arm bent tightly around a child’s head, and I fought to keep that intense pressure from forcing me to crush my own child’s skull. I was so scared I was going to hill him, but I couldn’t release my arm any more than I could relieve the searing pain in the twisted knee of my right leg. I was sure that leg was breaking. Still I screamed and could not hear my own voice. One more ounce of pressure, and I would black out. Was it my fate to die beneath the rubble of my house? Let the storm cease, Lord! Let the walls stop falling.

And the walls did stop and the blackness abated. It had lasted maybe fifteen seconds! An eternity. I don’t know when I knew it had been a tornado but by then I understood.

I knew we were in the house and yet suddenly I could see the outside, the clouds, the rain, a brightening sky. Where seconds before there had been kitchen counters, windows and ceiling, now above me was sky.

We were wedged underneath my butcher-bloc kitchen table top. It was slanted like a lean-to and enclosed us in a triangle. On top of it was the sodden, collapsed plasterboard wall, and on top of the wall was the sodden, wet sleep-sofa. The cumbersome piece of furniture was braced on one end by the kitchen stove. Had it landed six inches shy, the full weight of that heavy sofa would have crushed us.

I was trapped and unable to move. But Marilyn, with a strength that she later explained as the adrenaline-induced ability of a terrified mother, used her back and shoulders and lifted debris to free herself. As she crawled out, I straightened my cramped body, unbent my twisted knee, and raised my weight off the crying children beneath me. Their terrified cries reassured me they were alive. I tried to calm the children by saying repeatedly, “It’s okay. We’re alive.” Then I couldn’t help but quip, “This is Connecticut! This isn’t Kansas!”

Tornado Path

Click map to enlarge.

The path shows the SPC coordinates:  Start: 41.88 / -72.67      End: 42.05  /  -72.70

Corrected Coordinates based on damage reports and Dr. Fujita’s Map.

Start: 41.885282/-72.672851, End: 42.146328/-72.694140.

Slight veer in path: 42.066703/-72.678931.

When you look up this event in the SPC Database, Hampden County, MA is not included in the path but it should be per their own coordinates.  Based on the damage reports, it would appear the coordinates are off and should be shifted slightly east and north. 

Note:  Exact tornado path may not be straight and/or continuous.

Damage Survey Map from Ted Fujita

Photo via Windsor Locks Historical Society

Aerial view looking west in the Settler Circle neighborhood.

Photos via Windsor Locks Library History Group

American Gas Station – Route 75 and Spring Street.  From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Car Wash – Route 75.  From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Frank’s Diner – Route 75 and Elm Street.  From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Koala Inn – First Call for Trouble Alarm.  From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Roof of the Ford Dealership – Route 75.  From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Jet Landmark for Bradley Airplane Museum – Routes 75 and 20.  From the John C. Donahue Collection.

From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Hardee’s – Route 75. From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Federal Air Freight. From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Mascherino’s Hardware and Garden Store – Route 75. From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Rice Hardware – Route 75 (Poquonock). From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Hartford National Bank – Route 75 (Poquonock). From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Saint Joseph Cemetary – Route 75 (Poquonock). From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Saint Joseph Cemetary – Route 75 (Poquonock). From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Trees and Pieces of Houses – Settler Circle (Poquonock). From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Trees and Pieces of Houses – Settler Circle (Poquonock). From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Settler Circle (Poquonock) – Looking Towards Hollow Brook Drive. From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Settler Circle (Poquonock). From the John C. Donahue Collection.

From the John C. Donahue Collection.

From the John C. Donahue Collection.

From the John C. Donahue Collection.

From the John C. Donahue Collection.

Facebook Photo

Videos

Full Playlist of Videos from Windsor Community Television.  Includes interviews of survivors of the Windsor Tornado.

Newspaper Clippings

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the October 1979 Storm Data Publication and Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and found the following differences:

Path Length:

  • SPC/NCDC have an 11.3 mile path length.
  • Storm Data has a path length of 4 miles.
  • Grazulis has a length of 18 miles.

Width:

  • SPC/NCDC have a width of 1400 yards.
  • Storm Data has a width of 500 yards.
  • Grazulis has a width of 150 yards.

Counties:

  • Grazulis has the tornado passing through Hartford County (CT) and Hampden County (MA).
  • Remaning sources only list Hartford County.

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