SPC Stats

Path length: 34.9 miles

Width:  900 yards

Fatalities:  94

Injuries:  1228

Rating:  F4

County:  Worcester

It is the deadliest and most destructive tornado to ever hit the New England area.  The Worcester, MA Tornado occurred during the mid-afternoon time on June 9, 1953.  The destruction was overwhelming.  Per Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes, an F5 rating could have been given to this event. “Many of the houses that were nearly leveled were two- or three-story tenement buildings, built with dozens of interior walls which would add considerable structural strength.”

The Worcester tornado was the final event in a 3-day outbreak.  Per a blog article from Day in Weather History, “severe storms began on June 7th over the Central Plains before spreading into Michigan and Ohio on the 8th.  A total of 46 tornadoes occurred over the 3-day period, including a powerful, F5 tornado in Flint, MI on the 8th.”  We have a detailed summary on the Flint-Beecher tornado found here!  

In a slideshow about the Flint/Worcester Tornadoes, the NWS show some of the history of this system and decisions that were made by the Weather Bureau Office in Boston.  “Meteorologist Al Flahive and other staff met at 10am to discuss mention of “tornado” for their next forecast issuance. Decided against it so not to be “unnecessarily alarming.””

Instead, the crew issued the first-ever severe thunderstorm forecast wording in New England.  

Per the NWS presentation, the first ever tornado warning in New England was also issued on this day.  A phone call was received after 5pm from Blue Hill Observatory in Milton, MA to the Weather Bureau Office.  Observer John Conover relayed this message about falling debris, “…It’s coming from great heights, shingles, small branches, paper….boards several feet long…” 

“I’m afraid there’s been a bad tornado somewhere.”

The Weather Bureau Office sent a warning via teletype at 545pm.

There are discrepancies in the record on the path length.  SPC has a length of 34.9 miles.  The Climatological Data National Summary (CDNS) entry though shows a length up to 46 miles and this is accepted as the correct path length by Grazulis.

The CDNS entry shows a death toll of 90 and that was the long-accepted death toll for many years.  In 1993, John M. O’Toole released the book “84 Minutes, 94 Lives.”  It is an eyewitness account of the Worcester tornado.  He shows that 94 people lost their lives during this event.  The official SPC database reflects that new total.

Debris from this tornado was found in the Boston Area and on Cape Cod (over 100 miles away).  The NWS presentation denotes that a frozen mattress was found in Massachusetts Bay near Weymouth.  And books and clothing ended up at Blue Hill on outer Cape Cod.

Climatological Data National Summary Entry

Places listed in the summary:  Petersham, Barre, Rutland, Holden, Worcester, Shrewsbury, Westboro, Fayville, Southboro (all in MA).

This tornado, one of a series which also struck just south of these areas and Exeter, NH on this data, was the most violent and destructive tornado in New England’s history;  And its length, width and extent of devastation rank it among major tornadoes of record in the United States.  Number of deaths and injuries and amount of damage inflicted but his storm exceed combined totals of all previous tornadoes in New England.  Average rate of forward speed was 36mph.  Crop damage mostly to fruit trees.

Additional Details via Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes

  • “Huge cone of black smoke” developed in the town of Petersham, near the NE shore of the Quabbin Reservoir.
  • Moved to the southeast around 35 mph through Barre where 2 were killed.
  • The tornado headed through Rutland where 2 more were killed.
  • 9 died in Rutland.
  • The largest death toll was in the northern parts of Worcester where 60 were killed.
  • There were 12 fatalities in Shrewsbury and 6 in Westborough.
  • Three died in Southborough.
  • During the last few miles of the path, the tornado moved northeast.
  • Debris was carried into the Boston area and out into the Atlantic Ocean.
  • Approx. 4,000 buildings were damaged/destroyed.
  • Hundreds of automobiles were tossed.
  • Thousands of trees were splintered.

Tornado Path - SPC Coordinates

Click Map To Enlarge

SPC coordinates:  Start: 42.47 / -72.17   End:  42.30 / -71.52      

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

Tornado Path - Adjusted Plot

Click Map To Enlarge

Plot that goes through cities hardest hit with damage and loss of life – Data via Thomas Grazulis     

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

Images via NWS

Path of the two Massachusetts tornadoes on this day via Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society in the NWS Presentation on the Flint/Worcester Tornadoes. Dashed tracked indicate "skipping". That is denoted near the Barre/Rutland part of the Worcester tornado track.
Radar at 455pm. Hook echo near Holden, MA - Image taken by Project Lincoln of MIT
Tornado near Holden. Image taken by Stanley Smith. Courtesy of www.nesec.org
Twin Funnels on Brattle Street, Worcester at 508pm. Photo by Howard Smith, Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Worcester Tornado near Lake Quinsigamond, Shrewbury at 522pm. Photo by the late Henry LaPrade

Videos

Newspaper Clippings

Discrepancies:

We gathered information for this event from the SPC & NCDC Databases, the June 1953 Climatological Data National Summary (CDNS) and Thomas Grazulis in Significant Tornadoes and found the following differences:

Path Length:

  • SPC/NCDC have a 34.9 mile path length.
  • Grazulis and Storm Data have a length at 46 miles.

Max Width:

  • SPC/NCDC list a width of 900 yards.
  • CDNS has a range of widths from 200 to 1600 yards.
  • Grazulis has a width of 1000 yards.

Injuries:

  • SPC/NCDC have 1228 injuries.
  • CDNS and Grazulis list 1288 injuries.

Fatalities:

  • NCDC and CDNS have 90 fatalities.
  • SPC and Grazulis have 94 fatalities.

      Sources:

      The Storm Prediction Center

      NCDC Storm Events Database

      June 1953 Climatological Data National Summary

      Worcester, MA Tornado – June 9, 1953 – Day in Weather History

      NWS Powerpoint Presentation on the Flint and Worcester Tornadoes

      The Northeast States Emergency Consortium

      newspapers.com

      Grazulis, Thomas P. (1993). Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991: A Chronology and Analysis of Events. St. Johnsbury, VT: The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. Page 974.

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