The Forgotten 20th Century Connecticut Tornado

The Windsor Locks tornado and the Cornwall to Hamden tornadoes of the 70s and 80s are well documented. The 1878 Wallingford tornado (possibly the strongest to hit the state in recorded history) is the center of a bit of 19th century weather lore. In fact it’s just as easy to find damage pictures from the 1878 tornado damage online as it is to find 1989 damage pictures from Hamden!

But lost in the shuffle is the 1962 Waterbury tornado. Television stations were in their infancy and to my knowledge the film has been lost (WVIT did save an hour of film – now on DVD and backed up by me about a million times the 1955 flood video).

The 1962 tornado wasn’t the strongest (1878, 1989, and 1979 are all in that category) or the most damaging (1979 wins by a landslide) but for people around Waterbury of a certain age May 24, 1962 is a day they’ll never forget.

The 1962 tornado was a significant and long-track tornado that is unusual but not unheard of for the state. Here is how the National Weather Service described the storm.

The tornado was on the ground for 12 miles from Middlebury to Southington and was likely an F3 based on the above descriptions and video.

Video?!?

On Tuesday morning I spoke to an elementary school class in Prospect and was talking to a teacher who grew up in Waterbury and remembers seeing the storm. I couldn’t remember if it was in 1962 or 1964 (a rare historical weather lapse for me) so took out the iPhone and did a Google search. I couldn’t believe what popped up!

There is some impressive damage in that video – no doubt a significant tornado. One of the reasons this storm may have been lost in the historical shuffle is that it occurred less than 7 years after the 1955 floods. Many people living in Waterbury at the time recount that August night on the Naugatuck River like it was yesterday. For many the great flood following the remnants of Connie and Diane may have overshadowed what was most likely the 3rd most violent tornado of the 20th century in Connecticut.

If you have any memories, pictures, or stories from 1962 please share them here!

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8 thoughts on “The Forgotten 20th Century Connecticut Tornado

  1. I saw the wall of the tornado in my neighbor’s yard, it was brown, was so high I couldnt see the top, saw a chair, papers and other stuff in it. I was upstairs , the noise was just like a loud train coming closer, . Pushed my mom down basement stairs (had just seen Wizard of Oz) , it was pitch black, through basement window bushes were hitting window, My teeth chattered so much my tongue was a mess. the sound was frightening. My mom and I were terrified. After was told the tornado turned the corner and went down Dwight Street, taking down all the telephone poles on the right side of the street. At the bottom of the street, across Chaeryse Ave. a 3 family house had the side sheared off, it looked like a doll house with the furniture on the edge including a crib, the garage on the left of Dwight was smashed in and a car was up in the tree. It went toward Bunker Hill and at the top of the hill took out 3 homes. No one knew about it downtown or anywhere! When my father drove home from the game as he started driving down Cooke St. He saw roofs off houses, trees down and damage all around.
    No one believes that there was a tornado in 1962, they never heard about it . I was so happy to see your story! My mom and I were always afraid of windy storm. When ever we have a hot day, when the leaves and every thing else is silent, I still keep watch and that afternoon is alive in my head.
    I’m so sorry I wrote so much . I have never written like this to anyone I hope you don’t mind. Oh, do watch Ch. 30 all the time and see you doing the weather.

  2. I remember hearing about the tornado in Waterbury. I was 10 years old and i remember just like it was yesterday. I was outside my home in Shelton when the tornado went through Waterbury and I actually heard what sounded like a train in the distance up to the north along with thunder. It caught my attention because we never heard trains where I grew up in the Huntington section of Shelton. Later I heard about the tornado through the media and knew that what i heard was the tornado.

  3. I was 5 years old and living in the Fairmount section of Waterbury just up from Coe Park in May 1962 when that tornado came through. I was playing on my front porch with my brother & sisters because it was raining. But then the rain stopped and I remember looking up and seeing the sky to the west northwest boiling green & black. I turned to my then 7 year old brother and said: “Look the sky is green!” When all of a sudden an older boy (our neighbor’s son) came running up the sidewalk past our front porch pointing west shouting “Tornado, Tornado!” It was the first time I ever heard the word so I didn’t know what he was talking about…but my mother who also heard him did and so she rushed outside shouting at us to go in now to the closet under our stairs. As I ran in I looked back through our front door seeing my mother grab hold of my brother by his left shoulder while she pointed west with her left hand saying to him: “Do you see it, do you see it?” He too had no frame of reference at the time and didn’t know what he was looking at and years later said like me he remembered seeing nothing because he didn’t know what my mother was pointing at. My mother later (an elementary school Teacher in Prospect) said she could hear the sound of freight trains coming (of which she had prior warning about from her college roomate who survived the F5 Tornado in Worcestor in 1953) and could see swirling clouds of debris but thought we may have been too close to make out a funnel. Or maybe because we were on a hill (Fairmount) facing west where the tornado was coming from (through a valley between Bunkerhill and Fairmount near present day Kaynor Tech below Coe Park) all we would have seen at that moment was the rotating (swirling) wall cloud or pedestal cloud from which the funnel descended. But no sooner did we all pile into our closet squatting down when all the lights went out and the wind became a frightning roar! We could hear our screen door open and slam shut (bam, bam, bam) several times. My mother made us recite the Hail Mary prayer wherein the last line is “Now is the hour of our death, Amen” whereupon I asked my mother: “Are we all going to die?” She assured us we weren’t and pushed all of our heads down while she looked up. I thought she was looking for the Blessed Virgin but years later she told me she was looking to see if the Tornado would suck our roof off. And then there was quiet. No more wind and the screen door stood still. After a few more moments my mother opened the closet door to a very bright and sunny late afternoon. All the neighbors came out to what became a big social event exchanging what they all saw and heard. Other than garbage cans in the trees no one in our brick house neighborhood suffered much damage. But the neighborhood adjacent to us with all its wood constructed homes got whacked as did Waterville and Homer Street going east towards Bucks Hill, Lakewood and Wolcott. The storm sucked the roof off Sprague School’s gym and so the old gym had to be completely replaced. My Father was working at the time as Assistant Manager of Stop & Shop at the top of Homer Street and so had a clear bird’s eye view of the funnel cloud coming up Homer Street. He had all the shoppers move to the back of the store as he watched it twirl through the shopping center’s parking lot and veer up into Buck’s Hill. I am 55 years old now and remember this like it was yesterday.

  4. I remember when that tornado came through Wolcott. We lived on Chestnut Hill extension. Never saw a funnel. My father JUST got home from work before it hit. Did not hear a “train sound”. Destroyed Will Hocks peach orchard then sucked all the water out of his pond. Took a long time for it to refill. Took him years to clean up the woods on his property. We were cut off from the world for days. Never seen so many trees down before or since. I was 5 years old. Yes I remember the sky was a FUNNY green/black color.
    In the late 2000’s I met a cardiac nurse who lived in Watertown when she was a young girl. She and her mother had to be pulled out from underneath their demolished house after that same tornado hit there. That storm must have been on the ground for a looong time!
    Tornado warnings give me the willys till this day! Occasionally over the years in my travels I have seen the skys turn that green/black and I get such a feeling in the pit of my stomach.
    By the way: WE HAD NO WARNING IT WAS COMING!

  5. Yes I remember as my father had his brand new 62 Olds Dynamic 88 and he told me to shut the garage door but the wind was too strong and when I came up stairs the low pressure system sucked out the picture window frame and all -I lived on White-Wood Rd in the Bunker Hill section just below wher the twister touched down on Straits Tpke.

  6. I have a family 8mm film that has been digitized of some of the damage from this tornado. I also lived on Whitewood road and saw the tornado moments before it hit our house. I woke my dozing father and he threw my sisters and I down on the basement floor and laid across the top of us. We could see the apple tree next door get sucked up from the ground and disappear as the house shuddered with the impact. I’d be happy to share my film .if a link to post is supplied.

  7. I lived in Wolcott and was hanging out the front door talking to a neighbor when my Mom yelled at us to “get downstairs”. Had no idea why but there was no questioning the tone of her voice, I did it and did it quickly. I have a memory of flying down those stairs, hearing a train. When I asked my Mom what it was, she told us and then I told her the neighbor boy was outside, she went to rescue him and I sobbed as I thought she would die. All were well, the tornado zigzagged behind our house, took out a neighbor’s house and many trees. Up till then, didn’t know Ct, could have tornados and like others, when the sky looks a certain way, I still just sit and watch. I was 9 at the time.

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