1953 Flint–Beecher tornado
Tornado damage in Beecher, Michigan
|Formed||June 8, 1953, 8:30 pm EST (UTC−01:30)|
|Max rating1||F5 tornado|
|Damage||$19 million (1953 USD)|
|Casualties||116 fatalities, 844 injuries|
|Areas affected||Flint, Michigan, Beecher, Michigan (part of a larger outbreak)|
|1Most severe tornado damage; see Fujita scale
The 1953 Flint-Beecher Tornado occurred on Monday, June 8, 1953, and ranks as the deadliest in Michigan history and the 10th deadliest in United States history. Rated as an F5 on the Fujita Scale, the tornado touched down in Genesee County, Michigan, at 8:30 p.m. (01:30 UTC) and continued on a 27-mile (43 km) path causing 116 fatalities, 844 injuries and an estimated $19 million (1953 USD) in damage. Most of the casualties and damage occurred in the unincorporated community of Beecher, a suburb on the northern edge of the city of Flint, Michigan. The tornado was one of eight tornadoes that touched down the same day in eastern lower Michigan and northwest Ohio. It was also part of the larger Flint–Worcester tornado outbreak of severe weather that began over Nebraska and Iowa, before moving east across the upper Great Lakes states and Ontario, and on to New York and New England causing more deadly tornadoes. This is often noted as the last single tornado to exact a triple-digit death toll in the United States until the 2011 Joplin Tornado.
Just prior to the tornado touching down eyewitness accounts recalled that an approaching thunderstorm with several intense lightning strikes turned the northwest sky a dark “black-yellow-green” color. The US Weather Bureau (predecessor of today's National Weather Service) observations that evening recorded a temperature of 78 °F (25.5 °C) with a dew point of 71 °F (21.6 °C) and a barometric pressure reading that fell to 28.89 inHg (inches of mercury) (978.32 mb). Surface map analysis showed a frontal system associated with a strong low pressure moving west across lower Michigan. At 7:30pm (00:30 UTC) the Weather Bureau's Severe Storms Unit issued a Severe Weather Bulletin alerting of the threat of hazardous weather for southeast lower Michigan.
At approximately 8:30 p.m. the tornado touched down in Mt. Morris Township north of Flushing near the intersection of Webster and Coldwater Roads. The first reported observation from the Weather Bureau's Flint station came just minutes after the tornado touched down, "…unconfirmed Tornado reported 2 mi N Flushing heading ENE possibly hitting Flint 2033 E.” It began to take a path directly east down the Coldwater Road corridor entering the residential neighborhoods of the Beecher district, a Flint suburb. Moving at approximately 35 mph (56.3 km/h) the tornado cut a path 833 yards (761.69 m) wide. At a time before severe storm and tornado warnings the residents of Beecher had almost no advanced warning other than by sighting the tornado heading towards them. Victims recalled hearing the incredible roar from the tornado and seeing its black funnel before heading for shelter in home basements. The densely populated Beecher neighborhoods took a direct hit with several single family houses being completely destroyed. Witnesses recalled that the tornado's massive funnel resembled black smoke and was accompanied by smaller multiple vortices. Others reported seeing fireballs within the debris of the tornado. Beecher High School was heavily damaged as it was also directly hit by the tornado. The tornado's path also came close to the North Flint Drive-in theater. Patrons evacuated the drive-in in their vehicles. Some got into vehicle crashes in the ensuing panic to flee while others inadvertently drove into the path of the tornado after leaving the theater. The theater itself received only minor damage.
After leaving Beecher the tornado took an east-northeast path following just south of the Flint River where it ravaged farms causing more casualties and destruction near the rural communities of Genesee, Richfield Center and Columbiaville. The tornado stayed on the ground for 27 miles (43 km) and finally dissipated north of Lapeer near Five Lakes Road in Lapeer County's Deerfield Township. Within minutes a second tornado formed near where the original Flint-Beecher Tornado left the ground. That tornado reached F4 wind speeds and continued east through rural farm lands in Lapeer and St. Clair Counties causing more injuries and damage before moving out over Lake Huron.
While most of the tornado's 27 mile path went through rural farmland, most of the devastation was concentrated in the Beecher district. 113 of the 116 fatalities from the tornado occurred in Beecher, including 54 children under the age of 18 with multiple deaths occurring in 20 families. The two greatest losses were exacted to the families of Pedro Gatica and Thomas Gensel; both men survived, but lost their entire families. Gatica, a worker at General Motors, had been at work when the tornado struck, while his small home was directly in the path of the storm. His wife Cecilia, who was eight months pregnant with their third child, was killed, as were their two small children and a niece who lived with them. Gensel had been at home with his wife Vanessa and their four children when their home was blown apart; only Thomas survived. Eight area hospitals, including three in Saginaw, were involved in treating victims. Some accounts recalled employees of Flint's automobile industry leaving factories to head to the site to discover whether or not their families had survived. Large sections of neighborhoods were completely blown away, with only building foundations left. Nearly every home in the Coldwater Road corridor between Clio Road and Dort Highway including the adjacent Kurtz Avenue was destroyed, most of which were swept completely away. The tornado's force left huge trees debarked or ripped from the ground and vehicles thrown and mangled. Aerial surveys revealed intense helical ground scouring marks in rural areas. In all 340 homes were destroyed and 260 homes were damaged. Another 66 farm and commercial buildings were destroyed or damaged.
A monument was erected with the names of the victims in Beecher at Coldwater Road and Saginaw St near Beecher High School. The tornado remains the single deadliest tornado to occur in Michigan. It remained the deadliest single tornado in modern records (beginning in 1950) until it was surpassed by the Joplin, Missouri, tornado on May 22, 2011. The last F5 tornado in Michigan was the Hudsonville-Standale tornado of April 3, 1956. It was debated in the U.S. Congress at the time whether recent atomic bomb testing in the upper atmosphere had caused tornadoes including this one. Congressman James E. Van Zandt (R-Penn.) was among several members of Congress who expressed their belief that the June 4th bomb testing created the tornadoes, which occurred far outside the traditional tornado alley. They demanded a response from the government. Meteorologists quickly dispelled such an assertion, and Congressman Van Zandt later retracted his statement.
This chart shows the number of tornadoes spawned from the initial storm system.
June 8, 1953, event
|List of confirmed tornadoes — June 8, 1953|
|F4||NE of Temperance||Monroe||2315||5.4 miles
|4 deaths 15 houses destroyed and 14 more damaged. Trucks and cars were hurled through the air.|
|F3||SW of Ann Arbor||Washtenaw||0030||11.3 miles
|1 death A large tree landed on one house. One house was destroyed along with three barns|
|F3||W of Milford||Livingston, Oakland||0030||9.1 miles
|F3||E of Sand Lake to N of Oscoda||Iosco||0040||16.6 miles
|4 deaths 5 vacation cabins leveled, and 6 others badly damaged.|
|F2||S of Spruce||Alcona||0108||1.8 miles
|5 large barns were destroyed and livestock were killed.|
|F5||N of Flushing to N of Columbiaville||Genesee, Lapeer||0130||27 miles
|116 deaths See section above.|
|F0||SW of Caseville||Huron||0300||0.1 miles
|F4||N of Kings Mill to N of Port Huron||Lapeer, St. Clair||0330||33.8 miles
|Two homes and several barns were blown away|
|F4||N of Deshler to Cleveland||Henry, Wood, Sandusky, Erie, Lorain, Cuyahoga||0000||118 miles
|18 deaths-Was likely a tornado family according to Grazulis, with the first one touching down near Deshler, and striking Cygnet, where homes were swept away at possible F5 intensity, and 8 people were killed. The second touched down east of Kimball, passed south of Ceylon and ended near Vermillion, destroying multiple homes along the path and killing one person. The third tornado touched down south of Elyria, and tore across west Cleveland. It killed 7 and destroyed at least 100 homes before moving offshore into Lake Erie|
|Source: Tornado History Project - June 8, 1953 Storm Data|
|All deaths were tornado-related|
1953 tornado season in perspective
The year 1953 saw some of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history, including the Waco Tornado that hit on May 11, the Flint tornado of June 8, and the Worcester tornado on June 9. These 3 storms were also unique in occurring within a 30-day period.
Other severe tornadoes of 1953 hit Warner Robins, Georgia, in April, San Angelo, Texas, in May (same day as Waco), Port Huron, Michigan and neighboring Sarnia, Ontario (F4), also in May, Cleveland in June (same day as Flint), and Vicksburg, Mississippi, in December.
- Flint–Worcester tornado outbreak sequence
- 1953 Worcester tornado
- List of North American tornadoes and tornado outbreaks
- "Detroit/Pontiac, MI". noaa.gov.
- Timothy W. Martin And Robert Lee Hotz (24 May 2011). "Tornado Season Is Deadliest Since 1953 - WSJ". WSJ.
- "Detroit/Pontiac, MI". noaa.gov.
- "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2013-06-12. Retrieved 2013-05-29.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
- "Detroit/Pontiac, MI". noaa.gov.
- "People share their memories of the Beecher tornado". MLive.com.
- Keen, Richard A. Michigan Weather. 1993. American and World Geographic. ISBN 1560370467
- http://www.fpl.info/gallery/beechertornado/accounts/rachor.shtml[permanent dead link]
- "Flint, MI Tornado, Jun 1953". gendisasters.com.
- "The List of the Strongest Tornadoes Ever Recorded (Pre-1970): Part I |". Archived from the original on 2015-01-19. Retrieved 2015-01-16.
- Full map of Flint-Worcester tornado outbreak Tornado History Project
- Video interview of tornado survivor (and nurse) who tended to injured
- Beecher Tornado - Flint Public Library Archive
- Beecher Tornado - Flint Journal Beecher Tornado Anniversary
- Flint and Other Towns, MI and OH Tornadoes, June 1953 at GenDisasters.com