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 devastating the town of Windsor Locks.  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 3 fatalities. The deadliest known tornado in Connecticut was the 1878 Wallingford tornado – 34 killed on August 9, 1878.  (Grazulis, 596).

The SPC has 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.  I 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 Locks 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 I 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. 

100+ houses and buildings were “reduced to rubble.” At Bradley Air Museum, 16 planes were demolished.  This included one weighing 100 tons. All 3 fatalities occurred in Windsor Locks.  A man was killed by flying lumber as he sought shelter.  A woman was killed in her house.  Another person died several weeks after the tornado.

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.”

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.

Storm Data Entry

Not apparent on radar or satellite a maxi tornado sliced through this town (Windsor Locks) completely by surprise.  A man was killed by flying lumber as he sought shelter in his pickup truck and a woman was killed in her house as it was destroyed.  She was dropped a hundred feet away.  Several weeks after this great storm, another person died of injuries.

Over 100 houses and buildings were reduced to rubble.  The nation’s fourth largest historic aircraft collection was housed at the Bradley Air Museum.  The storm threw aircraft upside down on top of automobiles and across streets.  Sixteen planes were totally demolished including one weighing 100 tons.  Thirteen others were badly damaged and hangar roofs were blown off.  Tobacco was destroyed both in storage and in the field.   

Additional Information from Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes

  • Moved N and NNE from near the Poquonock School, through Windsor Locks, passing on east side of Bradley International Airport and through part of Suffield.
  • Most of the $200,000,000 total loss was to the museum and to commercial and national guard aircraft.
  • Windsor Locks damage was about $12,000,000.
  • Suffield damage was about $2,000,000.
  • No warning preceded the tornado.
  • It passed a mile east of the NWS office at the airport.

Tornado Path

Click map to enlarge.

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

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

Videos

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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