Massachusetts Tornado – 1 Year Later

It’s hard to believe that already one year has passed since one of New England’s most significant tornadoes in history. The 39-mile long Westfield to Charlton tornado has joined the pantheon of significant New England tornadoes that includes the 1953 Worcester tornado, 1989 Hamden tornado, and 1979 Windsor Locks tornado.

Of the greatest southern New England tornadoes this was one of the only ones we were able to watch develop with “new” technology like Doppler Radar. The images were frightening.

While a tornado warning wasn’t issued for an excruciating 15 minutes while the Albany radar showed a tornado vortex signature, the storm was already tearing up neighborhoods in Westfield and West Springfield. By the time the warning was issued and the storm was getting ready to cross the Connecticut River we saw it all unfold live on WWLP’s live camera in Springfield.

The storm was a monster as it moved out of Springfield but became even stronger in Monson and Brimfield. The pictures and videos are terrifying. This was how the storm looked on Doppler Radar.

BOX storm relative velocity and base reflectivity

I have seen debris ball signatures on radar like this countless times. In Joplin, in Tuscaloosa, and Greensburg, and countless other unlucky towns and cities across the country. To see the same signature in New England, on our local radar, in towns I know and have been to many times, the storm hit way too close to home.

Several weeks ago I traveled back to Massachusetts to see how the rebuilding effort was going. They’re getting there. Neighborhoods are springing back to life and for many spirits are high. There’s no question it’s been an extremely challenging year as so many lost so much in just seconds last June 1st.

I ran into one family in Brimfield a couple days after the tornado whose house was completely swept away. There was nothing left. They didn’t want to speak on camera then but I spoke with for 10 or 15 minutes about the storm, their ordeal, and what they planned on doing next. A couple weeks ago, by chance, I ran into them again in their neighborhood while we were getting video for an anniversary special we were putting together. Their rebuilding plans are moving forward slowly and though none of this has been easy they seem determined to move past that terrible day. Here is a before and after picture of their Brimfield home.  I had only seen the foundation of the house and a pile of debris right after the storm. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I opened the email they sent me with these attached.

I learned a lot on June 1st. I think I take my job to help protect and educate people about the dangers of severe weather even more seriously than before after seeing what a storm like this one can do right in our backyard. We’re all guilty of getting lulled into a false sense of security here in Connecticut saying “those kinds of things happen other place” but they certainly can happen right here and have in the past. It’s been 23 years since the last violent tornado in Connecticut – that’s a long time! Even longer, it’s been 74 years since the last major hurricane to strike Connecticut!

What happened was a terrible tragedy for people in the path of the June 1st tornado. Hopefully we can take the lessons from that day and use them to provide better forecasts, better warnings, and better education before the next storm strikes. Those lessons were hopefully learned from the National Weather Service, media, and private meteorologists right on down to local governments, first responders and residents.

While we’ll never be able to prevent devastating storms like this one hopefully we can mitigate their impact by better preparedness and better warnings.

A year after standing in the middle of Monson just 2 hours after getting hit by the tornado my thoughts are with everyone impacted by the storm.  It’s been a long road for most people hit by the tornado, but if the people I have spoken with recently are any indication, the human spirit is remarkably resilient and life is slowly returning to a new sense of normal.

Tornado Through @ryanhanrahan

For posterity here are the tweets I was furiously tweeting as the tornado ripped across western Massachusetts.

  • Barnes AFB reports a funnel cloud. Strong storm with rotation heading toward Springfield.
  • KBAF 012024Z 30005KT 1 1/4SM R20/4500VP6000FT FC +TSRA BKN024 BKN030 OVC065 26/22 A2984
  • Springfield Mass take cover… . EXTREMELY violent storm moving in
  • Have no idea why there’s no tornado warning on that cell
  • Tornado warning technically now in effect for northern HFD, Tolland, and Windham Counties but I expect storm will stay north
  • @WMassStormChsrs Did it touch down? BAF reported just a funnel cloud
  • very strong rotation over downtown Sprinfield. No immediate threat to CT. Warning is out of an abundance of caution.
  • Police report a tornado on the ground in Westfield Mass!!!
  • Tornaod on the ground seemingly in SPRINGFIELD from WWLP
  • LIve stream from WWLP of large tornado on the ground
  • Storm passing north of Stafford now… does not appear to be deviating in track. Will miss CT.
  • WWLP showing live pics of houses without roofs in Springfield.
  • Wibraham, Holland, and Sturbridge take cover. This is a very serious and life threatening situation.
  • Areas south of the Mass Pike in Worcester County take shelter. If you are driving on 84 east toward Worcester delayer your plans
  • Storm heading into Worcester County JUST north of Woodstock looks even stronger. Extremely dangerous and life threatening situation.
  • HUGE debris ball on radar now JUST west of I-84 in Sturbridg
  • I can’t express the seriousness of the storm heading toward Sturbridge just south of Mass Pike near 84. Tornado ON THE GROUND
  • Wales, Holland, and Brimfield likely suffered serious damage with a huge debris ball on radar
  • Debris ball on radar indicates tornado has picked up parts of trees and houses thousands of feet in the air. Heading straight to Sturbridge.
  • Debris ball on Rt 20 in Brimfield and Fiskdale, MA.
  • Closer to home… hail likely in 2 CT cells. One near Clinton and another heading to Willimantic.
  • Tornado Warning still in effect for northern Windham County but tornado will miss to the north
  • Reports are sketchy from Brimfield/Monson/Sturbridge but this could have been very large and violent
  • Radar shows about as impressive of a debris ball as you can get
  • Tornado about to cross I-395 north of Thompson. If you are traveling in NE CT on 395… DO NOT venture into Mass
  • National Weather Service reports tornado touchdown on I-84 in Sturbridge.
  • Damage in Springfield looks pretty bad but I am fearful the damage east toward Sturbridge is going to be much worse.
  • Rotation finally appears to be weakening. This tornado could have been on the ground all the way from Westfield to Sturbridge
  • Hearing uncomfirmed reports from Boston stations of “tremendous damage” and houses “gone” in Monson, MA

Damage Survey Continues

Update: As expected the NWS confirms at least EF-3 damage.

A damage survey is being conducted by the National Weather Service across western Massachusetts to determine the strength of the tornado based on the damage produced from Westfield to Southbridge.

Wikipedia has a fantastic article on the Enhanced Fujita Scale including information on the degree of damage indicators investigators will be looking at.

Just from the video I’ve seen and what I’ve seen personally as best I can determine the tornado touched down in Westfield and moved through West Springfield, and Springfield and then may have lifted in Wilbraham for a period of time. The damage up to this point was consistent with EF-2 damage though it’s possible there was a pocket of EF-3 damage in there but the National Weather Service will have a more definitive answer this afternoon.

The tornado touched down again somewhere near the Monson/Wilbraham line and continued east into Brimfield and then Sturbridge and Southbridge. There appear to be pockets of EF-3 damage in Monson and Brimfield (possibly Southbridge too?) and it’s conceivable that some EF-4 damage occurred. The construction of the buildings needs to be taken into account so it’s impossible for me to judge even having seen the damage up close. The Weather Channel’s Eric Fischer reported last night that one of the questions in the damage survey was how well constructed old wood frame houses are compared to modern construction. Again these are just my impressions based on the damage I saw in person and on video the NWS will release the final information.

I’ll try and post a more detailed meteorological review of the tornado this weekend. It appears that this tornado was another classic example of tornadogenesis occurring in a north/south oriented river valley in New York or New England.  I’ll also try to post more on the damage and rating of this tornado once the National Weather Service releases their findings.