1953 Waco tornado outbreak
The Dr Pepper Museum, with lighter colored bricks reparing damage from the tornado
|Active as of||May 9–11, 1953|
|Maximum rated tornado1||F5 tornado|
|Duration of tornado outbreak2||~2 days|
|Fatalities||144 dead, 597 injured|
1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale2Time from first tornado to last tornado
The 1953 Waco tornado outbreak was a series of 33 tornadoes, over a three day period, occurring in 10 different U.S. States. Tornadoes appeared daily, from May 9 to May 11, 1953, from Minnesota in the north to Texas in the south. The strongest (F5 on the Fujita scale) and deadliest (114 of the 144 deaths) was the tornado that struck Waco, Texas on Monday May 11.
May 9 event
|List of confirmed tornadoes - May 9, 1953|
|F1||N of Huron||Beadle||0005||1.9 miles (3.1 km)|
|F1||N of Bryant||Clark, Hamlin||0100||6.8 miles (10.9 km)|
|F0||SW of Randolph||Wayne||0300||1.5 miles (2.4 km)|
|F3||W of Belvidere to Milford||Thayer, Fillmore, Saline, Seward||0345||46.9 miles (75.5 km)||5 deaths - Homes, airplanes, and hangars were destroyed. The tornado struck Hebron, Nebraska, destroying 50 homes and 40 businesses, some of which were leveled. A church was leveled as well, and the top of the high school was torn off. May have been an F4.|
|F2||NE of Sumner||Dawson||0500||1.5 miles (2.4 km)|
|F0||SW of Staplehurst||Seward||0710||0.1 miles (160 m)|
|F3||N of Courtland to NE of Republic||Republic||0310||13.5 miles (21.7 km)||One house was destroyed.|
|F1||E of Vinson||Harmon||0700||3.6 miles (5.8 km)|
|F1||SE of Russell||Greer||0715||0.1 miles (160 m)|
|F1||SW of Mangum||Greer||0715||0.1 miles (0.16 km)|
|F1||N of Thomas||Custer||0720||0.1 miles (160 m)|
|Source: Tornado History Project - May 9, 1953 Storm Data|
May 10 event
|List of confirmed tornadoes - May 10, 1953|
|F1||W of Bentley to S of Udall||Sumner, Ness||0800||42.5 miles (68.4 km)|
|F3||SW of Elmdale to S of Keene||Chase, Morris, Lyon, Wabaunsee||1000||52.2 miles (84.0 km)|
|F1||N of Cambridge||Cowley, Elk||1030||6.9 miles (11.1 km)|
|F1||E of Bassett||Allen||1130||0.5 miles (0.80 km)|
|F2||NE of Renfrow to S of Udall, KS||Grant, Sumner (KS), Ness (KS)||0900||38.8 miles (62.4 km)||13 farms were damaged.|
|F1||E of Humboldt||Richardson||1200||9.7 miles (15.6 km)|
|F0||S of Nebraska City||Otoe||1930||0.1 miles (160 m)|
|F2||Russellville area||Pope||1810||2.3 miles (3.7 km)|
|F1||SE of Kindersport||Texas||2000||0.2 miles (320 m)||A large barn was destroyed.|
|F4||N of Millerton||Wayne||2115||6.4 miles (10.3 km)||A house was leveled.|
|F4||E of Garner to S of Silver Lake||Hancock, Cerro Gordo, Worth||2210||26.6 miles (42.8 km)||3 homes were destroyed and 28 were damaged. 200 farm buildings were damaged or destroyed. 3 people were injured, 2 seriously.|
|F2||SE of Haven||Tama||2230||0.1 miles (0.16 km)||All barns and outbuildings were destroyed on a farm.|
|F4||SW of Chester to S of Prentice, WI||Howard, Fillmore (MN), Olmsted (MN), Winona (MN), Buffalo (WI), Trempealeau (WI), Eau Claire (WI), Chippewa (WI), Taylor (WI), Price (WI)||2330||162 miles (261 km)||2 deaths - The tornado was actually a family of tornadoes. Hundreds of farms were destroyed and livestock was killed.|
|F3||E of Froelich||Clayton||0000||6.6 miles (10.6 km)||A tornado struck 8 farms, destroying barns and silos, and killing 60 livestock. A farmer was thrown 700 feet through the air, and survived with minor injuries.|
|F2||NW of Clontarf to N of Cyrus||Pope||2155||17 miles (27 km)||More than 33 barns and outbuildings were damaged or destroyed and livestock was killed.|
|F2||Maple Island||Freeborn||2300||6.9 miles (11.1 km)||6 deaths - Buildings were destroyed on dozens of farms. A large shack for housing migrant farmers was destroyed, resulting in the fatalities.|
|F4||SW of River Falls to E of Gordon||Pierce, St. Croix, Polk, Burnett, Washburn, Douglas||0030||105.7 miles (170.1 km)||4 deaths - Numerous homes and barns were destroyed along the track. This was probably a family of tornadoes. 21 people were injured.|
|Source: Tornado History Project - May 10, 1953 Storm Data|
May 11 event
|List of confirmed tornadoes - May 11, 1953|
|F4||N of San Angelo||Tom Green||2015||9.9 miles (15.9 km)||13 deaths - Listed as a "near-F5" by Grazulis. A 15-block area of San Angelo was devastated. Approximately 320 homes were destroyed and 197 damaged. Nineteen businesses were hit, including a theater that was demolished. A high school was destroyed and 150 vehicles were hit. There were 13 deaths and 159 injuries. Damage totalled $3.25 million, which is $25.407 million in 2008 dollars.|
|F5||Waco to Mount Calm||McLennan||2210||20.9 miles (33.6 km)||114 deaths - 196 businesses and factories were destroyed; 217 sustained major damage, and 179 sustained lesser damages. 150 homes were destroyed, 250 sustained major damage, and 450 sustained lesser damages. Over 2000 cars were damaged or destroyed and the First United Methodist Church was severely damaged. Over half the dead - 61 - were in a single city block bounded by 4th and 5th streets and Austin and Franklin avenues. This tornado tied the 1902 Goliad tornado for the deadliest in Texas and 11th deadliest in the United States. 597 additional people were injured and the tornado caused up to $41.2 million in property damage.|
|F2||W of Corinth||Leon||0030||9.5 miles (15.3 km)|
|F1||W of McAlester||Pittsburg||2100||0.1 miles (160 m)|
|F1||N of Wynnewood||Garvin||2230||2 miles (3.2 km)|
|Source: Tornado History Project - May 11, 1953 Storm Data|
The Waco Tornado struck at 4:36 p.m. The tornado, over two blocks wide, hit the downtown area. Many people on the streets crowded into local businesses for shelter. However, few of the buildings were constructed sturdily enough to withstand the winds, and they collapsed almost immediately. The best-known example was the six-story R.T. Dennis furniture store, which crumbled to the ground and killed 30 people inside. Newer buildings with steel reinforcement, including the 22-story Amicable office building (now called the ALICO Building) just across the street, weathered the storm.
|All deaths were tornado-related|
According to an old Huaco Native American legend, tornadoes could not touch down in Waco. Most storms in the area travel from west to east and split around the Waco area due to the bluffs around the Brazos River, making tornadoes and extreme weather relatively rare and mild in the city. The 1953 storm, however, traveled against the prevailing winds, and the tornado approached Waco from the south-southwest.
Due to a thunderstorm that was pounding the city with rain, the people of Waco were packed into department stores, banks, and other downtown buildings.
Located on Fifth Street, the five-story Dennis Building was quickly filling with people who came in to escape the rain. When the tornado struck, it first knocked a large water tank off the roof, then blew in the windows onto the terrified customers and employees. Beatrice Ramirez, an employee just one year out of high school, stood still knowing that there was nowhere safe to hide. Ten seconds after the tornado struck, the building was destroyed, leaving dozens of people trapped beneath its ruins. Beatrice was able to crawl out of the rubble into the rain. Many others would not be so lucky that day - twenty-two people died in the Dennis Building alone. Remarkably, eighteen hours after the rescue efforts started and all hope had been lost, rescue workers recovered a survivor: Lillie Matkin, who was a switchboard operator for the store, was saved by a mattress that fell on her.
The tornado's next target was the ten-story Professional Building. The windows were blown out and the roof was taken off. One woman had a very lucky escape from death. Right before the tornado hit, the rain calmed down and Bobbye Bishop decided to make a dash to her car. She reached the car just as the tornado struck. Her car was thrown up into the air, then fell back to the ground. Seconds later a two-ton vehicle was thrown on top of her car, pinning her inside it. Due to the weight of both vehicles, the tornado was unable to lift her car and she was also protected by flying debris due to being pinned inside.
Twelve people were killed in cars crushed in the street, one of which was crushed by a traffic light to only 18 inches (460 mm) in height. The Dr Pepper bottling plant, today the Dr Pepper Museum, was severely damaged.
Bricks from the collapsed structures piled up in the street to a depth of five feet. Some survivors were trapped under rubble for fourteen or more hours, and it took several days to remove the bodies from the rubble.
114 people were killed in the Waco area, with 597 injured and up to $410.2 million in property damage. 196 businesses and factories were destroyed, 217 sustained major damage, and 179 sustained lesser damages. 150 homes were destroyed, 250 sustained major damage, and 450 sustained lesser damages. Over 2000 cars were damaged or destroyed and the First United Methodist Church was severely damaged. Over half the dead - 61 - were in a single city block bounded by 4th and 5th streets and Austin and Franklin avenues. Some in the African-American community saw the tornado as divine retribution for the lynching of Jesse Washington over thirty years prior.
The Waco Tornado remains tied with the 1902 Goliad Tornado as the deadliest in Texas history and the eleventh-deadliest in US history. The storm was one of the primary factors spurring development of a nationwide severe weather warning system.
- Full map of Waco outbreak Tornado History Project
- NWS Fort Worth page of Waco Tornado