Flint, MI

Flint-Worcester tornado outbreak sequence

The Flint-Worcester Tornadoes were two tornadoes, one occurring in Flint, Michigan on June 8, 1953, the other in Worcester, Massachusetts on June 9, 1953. These tornadoes are among the deadliest in United States history and were caused by the same storm system that moved eastward across the nation. The tornadoes are also related together in the public mind because, for a brief period following the Worcester Tornado, it was debated in the U.S. Congress whether recent atomic bomb testing in the upper atmosphere had caused the tornadoes. 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.

The Flint-Worcester Tornadoes were the most infamous storms produced by a larger outbreak of severe weather that began in Nebraska, Iowa and Wisconsin, before moving across the Great Lakes states, and then into New York and New England. Other F3 and F4 tornadoes struck other locations in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire and Ohio.

Confirmed tornadoes

This chart shows the number of tornadoes spawned from the initial storm system.

June 7, 1953 event

List of confirmed tornadoes - June 7, 1953
Time (UTC)
Path length
F1 E of Morland Graham 1900 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F2 S of Hill City Graham 1900 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 S of Edmond Graham 1900 10.9 miles
(17.4 km)
F0 NE of Tampa to SW of Herington Marion, Dickinson 0445 12.6 miles
(20.2 km)
F1 W of Julesburg Sedgwick 2000 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F1 N of Julesburg Sedgwick 2000 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 SW of Julesburg (1st tornado) Sedgwick 2200 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 SW of Julesburg (2nd tornado) Sedgwick 2200 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F0 NW of Julesburg Sedgwick 2200 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F2 NE of Mason City Custer, Sherman, Valley 2030 6.6 miles
(10.6 km)
F2 NW of Giltner Hamilton 2100 6.6 miles
(10.6 km)
F0 S of Phillips Hamilton 2100 4.1 miles
(6.6 km)
F1 NE of Rising City to NW of Linwood Butler 2100 22.7 miles
(36.3 km)
F4 NW of Loup City to SW of Ord Sherman, Valley 2115 15 miles
(24 km)
11 deaths
F2 E of Scotia to SW of Spalding Greeley 2200 20.1 miles
(32.2 km)
F2 NE of Octavia Butler 2200 6.9 miles
(11 km)
F3 NW of Albion Boone 2215 8 miles
(12.8 km)
F0 SE of Upland Franklin 2230 9 miles
(14.4 km)
F1 E of Macon Franklin 2300 15 miles
(24 km)
F2 SW of Battle Creek to S of Pierce Madison 2300 16.6 miles
(26.6 km)
F2 SW of Pierce to SW of Laurel Pierce, Cedar 2300 31 miles
(49.6 km)
F1 N of Breslau Pierce 2310 8.2 miles
(13.1 km)
F0 SW of Martinsburg Dixon 2340 1.5 miles
(2.4 km)
F2 NW of Blair Washington 0045 4.1 miles
(6.6 km)
F0 S of Hooper Dodge 0100 1 miles
(1.6 km)
South Dakota
F0 N of Mitchell Davison 2345 1.5 miles
(2.4 km)
F2 NE of Westfield Plymouth 0015 11.3 miles
(18.1 km)
F2 N of Ida Grove to E of Fenton Ida, Sac, Pocahontas, Kossuth 0130 49.2 miles
(78.7 km)
F2 N of Gowne to SW of Olaf Webster, Hamilton, Wright 0300 49 miles
(78.4 km)
F3 W of Pomeroy to SE of Bode Calhoun, Pocahontas, Humboldt 0315 30.7 miles
(49.1 km)
F2 NE of Winterset to E of Walford Madison, Warren, Polk, Jasper, Poweshiek, Iowa, Johnson 0315 116 miles
(185.6 km)
F1 E of Boxholm Boone, Hamilton 0330 2.3 miles
(3.7 km)
F1 SE of Trimont to SE of Grogan Martin, Watonwan 0100 19.1 miles
(30.6 km)
Source: Tornado History Project - June 7, 1953 Storm Data

June 8, 1953 event

List of confirmed tornadoes - June 8, 1953
Time (UTC)
Path length
F4 NE of Temperance Monroe 2315 5.4 miles
(8.6 km)
4 deaths
F3 SW of Ann Arbor Washtenaw 0030 11.3 miles
(18.1 km)
1 death
F3 W of Milford Livingston, Oakland 0030 9.1 miles
(14.6 km)
F2 E of Sand Lake to N of Oscoda Iosco 0040 16.6 miles
(26.6 km)
4 deaths
F3 S of Spruce Alcona 0108 1.8 miles
(2.9 km)
F5 N of Flushing to N of Columbiaville Genesee, Lapeer 0130 18.9 miles
(30.2 km)
116 deaths
F0 SW of Caseville Huron 0300 0.1 miles
(0.16 km)
F4 N of Kingshill to N of Port Huron Lapeer, St. Clair 0330 33.8 miles
(54.1 km)
F4 N of Deshler to Cleveland Henry, Wood, Sandusky, Erie, Lorain, Cuyahoga 0000 118 miles
(188.8 km)
17 deaths
Source: Tornado History Project - June 8, 1953 Storm Data

June 9, 1953 event

List of confirmed tornadoes - June 9, 1953
Time (UTC)
Path length
F4 W of Petersham to NE of Fayville Worcester 2025 46.0 miles
(74.03 km)
94 deaths
F3 E of West Millbury to SE of Foxborough Worcester, Norfolk, Bristol 2130 28 miles
(44.8 km)
New Hampshire
F3 SW of Exeter Rockingham 2120 1.5 miles
(2.4 km)
F1 W of South Berwick Strafford 2200 1 miles
(1.6 km)
Source: Tornado History Project - June 9, 1953 Storm Data

Flint tornado

An F5 tornado hit Flint, Michigan on June 8, 1953. The tornado moved east-northeast 2 miles north of Flushing, Michigan and devastated the north side of Flint and Beecher. The tornado first descended about 8:30 p.m. on a humid evening near a drive-in movie theater that was flickering to life at twilight time. Motorists in the drive-in began to flee in panic, creating many auto accidents on nearby roads. The tornado dissipated near Lapeer, Michigan. Nearly every home was destroyed on both sides of Coldwater Road. Multiple deaths were reported in 20 families. It is, as of March 2007, the last single tornado to kill more than 100 people in the United States. One hundred and sixteen were killed, making it the ninth deadliest tornado in U.S. history. It is also one of only three F5 tornadoes ever to hit in Michigan. Another F5 would hit in Hudsonville on April 3, 1956.

Worcester tornado

The storm system that created the Flint tornado moved eastward over southern Ontario and Lake Erie during the early morning hours of June 9. As radar was still primitive (or nonexistent) in 1953, inadequate severe weather predictions resulted: the Weather Bureau in Buffalo, N.Y. merely predicted thunderstorms and said that "a tornado may occur." As early as 10 A.M., however, the Weather Bureau in Boston anticipated the likelihood of tornadic conditions that afternoon but feared the word "tornado" would strike panic in the public, and refrained from using it. Instead, as a compromise, they issued New England's first-ever severe thunderstorm watch. Several hours later and virtually without warning (to the public at least), a strong F4 tornado struck central Massachusetts in the late afternoon hours on June 9, 1953. The tornado descended over the Quabbin Reservoir in Petersham, Massachusetts at 4:25 P.M., and was witnessed by boaters on the reservoir. After brushing Petersham, it tracked southeastwards and slammed into the rural towns of Barre and Rutland, followed by suburban Holden, before killing 60 in heavily populated northern Worcester. The towns of Shrewsbury and Westborough each suffered numerous fatalities. The tornado did its final destruction at the Fayville post office on Route 9 in Southborough, and dissipated nearby over the Sudbury Reservoir (in the Framingham area), 84 minutes after it formed.

Ninety-four people were killed.

Coincidentally, residents of central Massachusetts were coming home from work in the minutes before impact and picked up their evening newspapers to read the front-page headlines of the tornado that had just struck Flint, Michigan the previous evening. Some wondered if it was exactly the same tornado that was now bearing down on them.

Outbreak death toll
State Total County County
Massachusetts 94 Worcester 94
Michigan 125 Genesee 116
Iosco 4
Monroe 4
Washtenaw 1
Nebraska 11 Valley 11
Ohio 17 Cuyahoga 6
Erie 2
Henry 5
Lorain 1
Wood 3
Totals 247
All deaths were tornado-related

The massive Worcester tornado was on the ground for nearly an hour and a half. In that period it traveled 46 miles, reached 1 mile in width and injured 1,300 people. Barre suffered the first 2 fatalities. The tornado then renewed its vigor in Rutland center with 2 more deaths, and widened to 1/2 mile in Holden, where 9 were killed outright (a 10th succumbed 2 days later), the worst-hit areas being Winthrop Oaks & Brentwood.

At 5:08 P.M., the tornado entered Worcester and grew to an unprecedented width of 1 mile. Damage was phenomenal in Worcester (second largest city in Massachusetts) and in some areas equaled the worst damage in any U.S. tornado. Hardest-hit areas included Assumption College (now Quinsigamond Community College), where a priest and 2 nuns were killed. The main building's 3-foot-thick brick walls were reduced by 3 floors, and the landmark tower lost 3 stories. The nearby Burncoat Hill neighborhood saw heavy devastation (especially on its western slope), but it was the Uncatena-Great Brook Valley neighborhoods to the east of Burncoat Hill that were utterly leveled, houses simply vanishing and debris swept clean from the sites. Forty people died in the Uncatena-Great Brook Valley areas alone. A 12-ton bus was picked up, rolled over several times and was thrown against the newly-constructed Curtis Apts. in Great Brook Valley, resulting in the deaths of 2 passengers. The Curtis Apts. blueprints were blown all the way to Duxbury (near Plymouth), 75 miles away. Across Boylston St. from the Curtis Apts., the Brookside Home Farm (a city-operated dairy facility and laundry) sustained total damage, with 6 men killed and the loss of its herd of 80 Holsteins. Wrecked houses and bodies were blown into Lake Quinsigamond. The 6 fatalities at Brookside were the most in any 1 particular building in the tornado.

The funnel maintained a 1-mile width throughout much of Shrewsbury (12 killed), and was still doing maximum damage when it moved through downtown Westborough (5 deaths), where it began curving towards the northeast in its final leg. In the storm's final moments, 3 perished in the collapse of the Fayville Post Office in Southborough. Coincidentally, around the time it ended 5:45 P.M., a tornado warning was issued, although by then it was too late. A separate F2/3 tornado also struck about the same time the warning was issued, in the nearby communities of Sutton, Northbridge, Mendon, Bellingham, Franklin, Wrentham & Mansfield in Massachusetts, injuring 17 persons. Another tornado did minor damage and caused several injuries in Fremont & Exeter in Rockingham County, New Hampshire; other smaller tornadoes occurred in Colrain, Mass. & Rollinsford, N.H.

Baseball-size hail was reported in a score of communities affected by the Worcester supercell. Airborne debris was strewn eastward, reaching the Blue Hill Meteorological Observatory 35 mi (56 km) away, and even out over Massachusetts Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The farthest documented distance of tornado debris was an item that blew from Holden to Eastham (on Cape Cod), a distance of 110 miles. This is one of the greatest such instances in a U.S. tornado.

The Worcester Tornado was a milestone in many regards, and not only because of its enormous size or unusual geographic location. At the time, it was the nation's COSTLIEST tornado in raw dollars, and its 1,300 injuries were the 3rd worst in U.S. history (until the 1979 Wichita Falls tornado bumped it to number 4, where it still stands). The tally of 10,000 homeless stood unchallenged for 26 years until the '79 Wichita Falls storm.

However, the Worcester Tornado's greatest effect on the nation was its being the catalyst for the Storm Prediction Center's reorganization on June 17, 1953, and subsequent implementation of a nationwide radar/storm spotter system. The results have proven successful: since June 9, 1953, no U.S. tornado death toll has approached the century mark. The Worcester Tornado, with 94 fatalities (19th worst on record), is the last such storm to kill more than 90 people (as of June 2008), and thus represents the last of the large-fatality tornadoes of an earlier time.

The severity of this epic storm remained in dispute for a long period within the meteorological community. Official observations classified this tornado as F4, but damage was consistent with an F5 tornado in 5 of the affected towns (Rutland, Holden, Worcester, Shrewsbury & Westborough). As a result of this debate, the National Weather Service took an unprecedented step and convened a panel of weather experts during the spring of 2005 to study the latest evidence on the wind strength of the Worcester Tornado. The panel considered whether or not to raise the designation of the storm to F5, but finally decided during the summer of 2005 to keep the official rating as a strong F4. The reasoning for this was that the anchoring techniques used in many of the destroyed or vanished homes could never now be ascertained with certainty, and some of these structures (many of recent postwar construction) were possibly more vulnerable to high winds than older homes. Without a proper engineering qualification, it would be nearly impossible to determine with 100% accuracy which damage was F5 and which was F4, as appearances would be similar.

1953 tornado season in perspective

Even though the 1953 tornado season only saw 422 tornadoes (which is half the nationwide average), the year saw some of the deadliest tornadoes in U.S. history, including the Waco Tornado that hit on May 11, the Flint MI tornado of June 8, and the Worcester MA 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 GA in April, San Angelo TX in May (same day as Waco), Port Huron MI also in May, Cleveland OH in June (same day as Flint), and Vicksburg MS in December.


  • Chittick, William F. (2003). The Worcester Tornado, June 9, 1953. Bristol, RI: Private Publication.
  • Chittick, William F. (2005). What Is So Rare As A Day In June: The Worcester Tornado, June 9, 1953. Bristol, RI: Multimedia Presentation.
  • O'Toole, John M. (1993). Tornado! 84 minutes, 94 lives. Worcester: Chandler House Press. ISBN 0-9636277-0-8


See also

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