Tornadoes Strike Massachusetts



Twister rumbling through downtown Springfield, MA on the afternoon of June 1st.

During the Memorial Day weekend, the Northeast had experienced a gradual warming trend coupled with an increase in humidity.  On Wednesday, June 1st, the temperature and heat index peaked for most of the region ahead of a cooler, drier air mass approaching from the Ohio Valley.  The cold front was preceded by a trough, adding further convection to an already unstable atmosphere.  That morning National Weather Service issued a Tornado Watch, effective from 1:00 PM to 8:00 PM, covering eastern Pennsylvania, most of New Jersey, New York lower Hudson Valley, parts of Connecticut, most of Massachusetts, all of New Hampshire, and southern Maine.

Around 4:30 PM, strong thunderstorms in western and central Massachusetts spawned multiple tornadoes (final count and strength had yet to be determined at the time of this article).  Initial reports showed extensive damage in the cities of Westfield and Springfield.  Several injuries were reported, including three fatalities.  Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick had declared a state of emergency.

One of the twisters that struck Massachusetts was filmed crossing the Connecticut River in Springfield (video is posted at the end of the article).  The funnel had a siphon-like effect, channeling water into the vortex as it glided across the surface.  A tornado draws in air to replace the rapidly rising curtains in the mesocyclone—the violent, rotating updraft that forms the circulation.  The funnel cloud is essentially a spiraling updraft, picking up anything in its path.  The angular force of the wind and the whirling debris within the vicinity of the twister are what make this storm so deadly.

It had been three years since a tornado was reported in “The Bay State”.  The last fatality from a tornado was when a F4 twister struck the state in 1995.  The tornadoes on June 1stwere more destructive because of the populated areas it struck.  The NWS Storm Prediction Center had done its job, alerting the public well in advance that conditions were favorable for severe thunderstorms, accompanied with hail, gusty winds, and possibly tornadoes.  The weather forecast was not as ominous on June 9, 1953 when residents were caught completely off guard as a mammoth tornado ravaged Worcester County, staying on the ground for over an hour (first reported at 4:25 PM; last reported at 5:40 PM)!

Tornadoes are uncommon in New England.  From 1953 to 2004, Massachusetts has averaged slightly less than three tornadoes annually, including one strong twister (F2 or greater); Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine have a combined average of near six tornadoes in total during the same span.  The other three states in the Northeast—Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey—have an annual average of 12, 7 and 3 tornadoes, respectively.

Note of interest: New Jersey (3.8) and Massachusetts (3.6) have the highest concentration of tornadoes among the Northeast states (per 10,000 square miles) based on data reports from 1953 to 2004.