While going through my newsfeed this morning, I decided to look at an article on Bloomberg from two days ago with the title: “There Was Nothing Normal About America’s Freakish Winter Weather” by one Brian K. Sullivan. Of course, my inner grammar zealot had a snit because “About” was capitalized in a title despite the fact it was a preposition and further noted with disdain that there was no period following the initial in Brian K. Sullivan’s name; however, I am not my inner grammar zealot so we’ll ignore Bloomberg’s grammar sins and move on to what made this article fodder for being wrong on the internet.

When it comes to articles that venture into hypotheses regarding global warming, I am always on the lookout for the usual sins that reporters make on this subject, especially the one that treats the occurrances of one year as proof or disproof of global warming. As I am sure all my readers already know (and if you don’t, just fake it), climate trends are not statistically significant on scales of mere years. Decadal data, as an average or a sliding average, is the smallest timescale that has any grip in demonstrating real world climate trends with statistical significance; and of course, centurial data is preferable. Much to my disappointment with finding something to blog about, the author of the article made none of those mistakes, alas. All things considered, it’s actually a nice piece about the weather this Winter and how that fits into evolving hypotheses of global warming.

The author saved the best for last: there was a tornado this February in Massachusetts, something I vaguely remember from the news this Winter; and there in the very last sentence of his article, he goofed. Here’s what he wrote:

“officials confirmed it was a tornado, the first ever in a state that began documenting its weather patterns back in the 1600s. “

Now, something that every fourth grader in tornado alley knows is that tornadoes can occur anywhere – even in New England. When we moved to Maine from Texas, I know I disappointed a friend from Aroostook County who wanted to shock me with the fact that northern Maine gets a small number of tornadoes every year. I’ve lived in tornado alley twice in my life and I’m quite aware that tornadoes came pop up anywhere when the conditions are right. I’m afraid my friend from Houlton, Maine was rather put off by my lack of surprise over Maine tornadoes. After all, there have been tornadoes reported in every state, and in almost every country in the world too. This is bread and butter knowledge if you take advantage of attending one of the National Weather Service’s free weather spotter classes – which you can take whether or not you plan on becoming a spotter. The class is free regardless. I think everyone should take one – you’ll learn a lot about weather you never knew before, even if you’re a nerd like me. Great classes, good stuff to learn, absolutely no money required: so what are you waiting for? Go grab some free weather education – you won’t be sorry!

So how about tornadoes in Massachusetts, then? Well, our Bloomberg author was wrong on the internet – and he was doing so well with that article too. It almost seems a shame to take him to task for it, but alas, I’ve written enough so far to see this blog post to the end. It turns out that the first-ever report of a tornado in what would become the future United States of American was out of the small hamlet of Lynn in Massachusetts Bay Colony, a scant five miles north of Boston. I found the tornado report from Lynn while doing my research for this blog post. I knew the author of the Bloomberg article had been wrong on the internet, though, because I recalled that the worst tornado to ever visit New England had been the June 9, 1983 F4 tornado that leveled part of the City of Worcester, Massachusetts. It came at the end of a three-day tornado outbreak that left hundreds dead and thousands injured, not to mention the requisite millions of dollars of property damage.

The outbreak started on June 7 as a storm rolled off the rockies and set up a line of supercell convective storms. The first tornado activity was a handful of small F0 through F2 tornadoes that briefly touched down on a Sunday afternoon along the eastmost Colorado-Nebraska border and in northwest Kansas. This was followed that evening by several F2, two F3 and one F4 tornadoes gouging their way across central Nebraska and into north-central Iowa. Sioux City and Fort Dodge lucked out by being just missed by the course of several tornadoes and the death toll was a modest 11, mostly because the storms crossed sparsely-populated farmland and ranchland. The storm front moved on overnight over the Mississippi River and into the eastern half of the Midwest.

On Monday afternoon, June 8, 1953, this same storm spawned a line of nine tornadoes 300 miles long north-to-south, crossing the northern Midwest from the top of the Michigan mitten to the middle of Ohio. The worst of the tornadoes was an F5 that cut through northern half of the City of Flint, Michigan, killing 116 and injuring 844. In addition, an F4 started some 30 miles southwest of Toledo which cut up to Lake Erie at Sandusky and then traveled along the lake shore into Cleveland, leaving a 120 mile path of destruction with 17 dead and 379 injured. Overnight, the storm continued east over the mountains of the Appalachian Orogeny.

The early afternoon of Tuesday, June 9 was extremely hot. The stormfront crossed the Hudson River and started its first actions with three inch hail falling on the Connecticut River at the Vermont-Massachusetts border. The National Weather Service recognized that southern New England might be struck by some unprecedented weather – but in the 1940s and 1950s, it was policy not to announce that tornadoes might be on their way for fear of creating a panic in the general public. In a era before the severe storm watch system was put into place in 1972, the National Weather Service announced instead the first severe thunderstorm warning ever issued in New England.

At 2:25 PM, a mile-wide F4 tornado developed just east of the huge Quabbin Reservoir that the late great H. P. Lovecraft often invoked in his famous horror stories placed in Massachusetts. It cut a 40 mile long path of devastation into the City of Worcester, killing 94 people in the hour and a half it was on the ground and injuring 1228 others. As it died, an F3 developed 6 miles south of Worcester in Milbury, It traveled some thirty miles to where it died out in Foxboro on the Massachusetts-Rhode Island border. The last two spots of activity of the outbreak were two tornadoes that briefly touched down just to the west of the City of Portsmouth, New Hampshire before the squall line of storm cells moved out over the Atlantic Ocean.

In total, the 1953 “Flint-Worcester” Outbreak spawned 50 tornadoes over 3 days, killing a total of 247 people, injuring 2562, and causing over 2 billion dollars of property damage. The Flint tornado is currently rated the tenth most deadly tornado in the history of the USA and the Worcester tornado is currently rated as the twenty-second most deadly. Of the 25 most deadly tornadoes in the country, the Worcester tornado of 1953 is the most easterly and the only one in New England; all the others are in the South or the Midwest.

All of the references today deserve a visit if you want to learn more on this subject. The Stormstalker blog is highly recommended and the Tornado History Project website is a marvel to cruise around. If you click on the tornado symbols, it will show you death and injury statistics. The table feature will summarized outbreak statistics for you. There’s also some vintage footage from the Worcester tornado out on YouTube, if you’re into that kind of thing.


  • "There Was Nothing Normal About America’s Freakish Winter Weather,” Brian K.Sullivan, Aprile 10, 2017, Bloomberg, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-04-10/there-was-nothing-normal-about-america-s-freakish-winter-weather
  • “25 Deadliest U.S. Tornadoes,” NOAA, http://www.spc.noaa.gov/faq/tornado/killers.html
  • “84 Minutes, 94 Lines: the 1953 Worcester Tornado,” New Worcester Spy, http://newworcesterspy.net/84-minutes-94-lives-the-1953-worcester-tornado/
  • “June 7-9, 1953 – The Flint-Worcester Outbreak,” Stormstalker Blog, https://stormstalker.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/flint-worcester-outbreak/
  • “History of Tornado Forecasting,” NOAA, http://celebrating200years.noaa.gov/magazine/tornado_forecasting/
  • “U.S. Tornado Climatology,” NCEI/NOAA, https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/climate-information/extreme-events/us-tornado-climatology