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History of Tornadoes in New England

Updated: Apr 28

Every summer, a small handful of tornadoes touch down across New England. New England Storm Center has been keeping track of every New England tornado since 2009. A vast majority of these storms are very weak and short lived. Only three tornadoes since 2008 has been ranked higher than EF1 strength. Every once in a while, however, New England gets hammered by a powerful twister or even a small outbreak. Here's a look through New England's most notable tornadic events:

JULY 5, 1643: First record of a tornado in the United States?

Massachusetts Bay Governor John Winthrop kept a detailed journal of weather events in the Boston area during the 1630s and 1640s. In an entry on July 5, 1643, Winthrop wrote:

"There arose a sudden gust at N.W. so violent for half an hour as it blew down multitudes of trees. It lifted up their meeting house at Newbury, the people being in it. It darkened the air with dust, yet through God's great mercy it did no hurt, but only killed one Indian with the fall of a tree. It was straight between Linne [modern day Lynn] and Hampton."

It will never be known for sure if what John Winthrop saw this day was, in fact, a tornado. While some descriptions in this entry are indicative of a tornado ("darkened the air with dust" could reference the tornado funnel), some experts argue this event was more likely a downburst.

AUGUST 1671 & JULY 8, 1680: Two other candidates for earliest US tornado

Two other events that took place in Massachusetts in the 1600s could lay the claim to being the first documented tornado in the United States. Reverend William Adams of Ipswitch visited Rehoboth to view "strange effects" from an event near the town. He wrote:

"…carrying about 20 rods in breadth, tearing up by the roots, or breaking the bodies of almost all trees within its compass saving only some small and low ones, and it is thought in all probability to have gone 15 miles in length.”

Meteorologist and tornado historian Thomas Grazulis states that this was possibly a tornado. Grazulis is one of the experts that does not believe that the 1643 event was a tornado.

The event of July 5, 1680 is believed by Grazulis to be the first "confirmed true tornado in the United States." This tornado touched down in Cambridge. It tore a roof off of a barn and snapped many large trees. Eyewitness Matthew Bridge wrote:

"a thick black cloud in continuous circular motion produced a great noise in the process of tearing down trees and picking up bushes, trees and large stones. John Robbins, a servant was killed by the storm."

This account paints a much more clear illustration of what a tornado looks like compared to Winthrop's 1643 account.

Early depiction of a tornado.

1787 OUTBREAK: 5 tornadoes

Not only does New England hold the first record of a tornado in the United States, the region is also home to the first recorded tornado outbreak in the country's history. On August 15, 1787, five tornadoes touched down across Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.

While it will never be known just how strong the tornadoes were, extensive damage was reported in all three states where tornadoes touched down. Two people were killed in the tornado that tore a path from New Britain to Coventry, Connecticut.

Death and destruction was somewhat limited compared to what could have been thanks to the fact that much of the areas where the tornadoes passed through were uninhabited. A handful of other towns across New England sustained damage from non-tornadic thunderstorms as well.

1821 OUTBREAK: 5 tornadoes; estimated EF4 tears through New Hampshire

On September 9, 1821, one of the most powerful and destructive tornado outbreaks in the region's history occurred. A total of 8 people were killed, all 8 deaths occurred in two tornadoes: one in Massachusetts and one in New Hampshire.

The one in Massachusetts originated near the MA-VT-NH tri-point. The tornado moved southeastward from Northfield to Orange. The tornado did the most amount of damage in the town of Warwick, between Northfield and Orange. Multiple houses and barns were competently destroyed.

1821 tornado outbreak tracks. Photo Credit: NWS

The tornado in New Hampshire was even stronger, this tornado has been estimated to be equivalent to an EF4 on the Enhanced Fujita scale. The tornado tore a 23 mile path from Cornish, on the Vermont border, to Boscawen. Homes and buildings along the entire path were obliterated. As the storm crossed Lake Sunapee, it picked up debris and furniture and threw it across the lake.

The tornado climbed Mt. Kearsarge and then dove into the town of Warner, where the most damage was likely done. There were also reports of hail up to 5 inches in circumference. Winds may have approached 200mph within the twister, likely making it the strongest storm to ever tear through New Hampshire.

AUGUST 30, 1838: Worst in Rhode Island history?

In the middle of a busy Thursday afternoon, a completely unexpected tornado touched down in Johnston, Rhode Island and tore through the state before ending in Massachusetts. There were many eyewitnesses outside during this tornado. Details of this event are plentiful thanks to a businessman Zachariah Allen, who wrote a detailed report of the event.

This tornado destroyed many houses and even sucked nearly all the water out of multiple ponds. Many crops were also destroyed. The path of damage extended for about 25 miles and was estimated to be about 600 feet wide. The entire length of the 25 mile track saw consistent devastation. The tornado held its strength until the very end. The tornado injured at least 5 people, although it could have been much worse as the twister narrowly missed a rail depot where a large crowd was waiting for a train.

AUGUST 22, 1851: The Great Middlesex Tornado

This tornado began in the eastern outskirts of Worcester and tore a path east-northeast to about Malden. This tornado's damage descriptions are similar to that of previous strong tornadoes in the region. Many tree limbs were snapped, houses were severely damaged and a school house was destroyed. A freight train car was rolled 10 rods along the track before it was lifted off the track and thrown about 60 feet.

Track of 1851 tornado. Photo credit: Waltham Historic Society

A resident of Medford had this to say about the storm:

"Suddenly, at about quarter past five, there appeared in the west beyond Wear bridge a whirling cloud, something in shape like a spreading tree or an inverted cone. Its lower part seemed to writhe about like the trunk of an elephant, reaching toward the earth. As it came on over the river, it began its terrible work, as if with teeth and jaws of steel. Its track covered a space of about eighty rods wide, taking the general course of High street with varying force and incredible velocity."

SEPTEMBER 2, 1871: Arlington, Massachusetts tornado

Twenty years after the Great Middlesex Tornado, another strong twister tore through Middlesex county. This one was greatest felt in Arlington. Resident Charles Parker wrote this about the storm:

"The gale which prevailed Sunday night was quite severe. The wind was especially furious in Arlington. The windows of the residence of Judge William E. Parmenter, on Russell street, were blown in. The rear part of the house of Thomas J. Russell on Main street, was damaged by a large elm tree blown against it. Much damage was done on High, Grove and Mill streets. Individual losses are not great, but the aggregate is large...The gust was so sudden and severe that the [Oxford Congregational Church] spire was turned end for end.

AUGUST 9, 1878: The Wallingford Tornado: Connecticut's worst

This tornado is estimated to have had a strength of F4 on the Fujita scale. The tornado began as a rather innocent water spout on Wallingford's Community Lake. Once the tornado crossed onto land, the power of the storm became apparent. The tornado tore right through the center of the town, leveling every building it passed over.

Heavy tombstones were torn from the ground and thrown about. A newly built brick high school was completely destroyed. About 30-35 people were killed, making this tornado the second deadliest in New England history. A total of 35 homes were completely destroyed. A nearby schoolhouse was converted into a temporary morgue. As strong as this tornado was, it did not last long. It was likely on the ground for only a few miles.

JULY 26, 1890: The Lawrence Tornado

A tornado estimated to have a strength of F3 tore through Lawrence, Massachusetts in late July 1890. Photos taken after this tornado show scenes of severely damaged houses and some houses reduced to a pile of rubble.

Lawrence damage. Photo credit: NOAA

JULY 31, 1927: Tornado damages Rehoboth

The third and most recent tornado to strike Rehoboth, Massachusetts was seen by many who on their way to church services. Houses were seen to have their roofs torn off and large trees crashed down around those driving to church. While no major buildings were completely destroyed, a carriage shed attached to the church was flattened.

JUNE 9, 1953: The Worcester Tornado: New England's most notorious tornado

On June 9, 1953, one of the most powerful tornadoes in the region's history struck. This tornado would cause over 50 million dollars in damages and kill 94 people, making it the deadliest tornado in New England history. The tornado would injure well over 1,000 people. The tornado is estimated to have had a strength of F4.

The tornado dropped into the Quabbin Reservoir and quickly began to track in a southeast direction. The tornado tore through the towns of Barre and Rutland while quickly gaining strength. The tornado began to cause devastation when it entered into Holden, completely wiping out an entire neighborhood.

Complete devastation in Worcester. Photo credit: NWS Boston

After Holden, the tornado, now 1 mile wide, entered into Worcester. The scale of devastation this storm inflicted in the city is hard to put into words. The scenes of Worcester on June 10, 1953 resemble scenes from many of the United States' other extreme tornadoes. Large neighborhoods were completely erased from existence. A large bus was picked up and thrown against an apartment complex.

The tornado would not stop after devastating Worcester. At maximum strength and still a mile wide, the tornado tore through Shrewsbury and Westborough. After 84 minutes of havoc, the tornado dissipated. It traveled a total of 48 miles.

This tornado prompted an overhaul to the Storm Prediction Center's tornado warning system. Three other tornadoes touched down in New England on this day, including an estimated F3 just south of Worcester. The two other tornadoes touched down in Rockingham and Strafford counties in New Hampshire.

AUGUST 28, 1973: Killer tornado enters the Berkshires

A powerful tornado crossed from New York into Massachusetts in late August, 1973. This tornado tore apart a truck stop, a diner and a few houses. A total of 4 people were killed. Power poles and trees were snapped.

OCTOBER 3, 1979: A rare powerhouse fall tornado strikes Connecticut

This tornado, an F4, caused over 400 million dollars worth of damage. This tornado stands as the costliest tornado in New England history. A total of 65 homes were destroyed with an additional 75 being damaged. 30 aircraft and many of the state's national guard helicopters were damaged or destroyed.

Damaged aircraft from the Windsor Locks Tornado. Photo credit: FOX61

Initially, fears were very high that many hundreds of people were dead due to the combination of the powerful tornado and the fact that no warnings were issued prior to the storm. There ended up being over 500 injured, but only three were killed.

MAY 29, 1995: The Great Barrington Tornado

An F4 tornado struck the Berkshire town of Great Barrington in late May 1995. This is the most recent F/EF4 tornado to strike New England. The National Weather Service storm event database wrote this about the storm:

"Three people were killed when the automobile they were in was lifted several hundred feet in the air and then dropped into a wooded hillside. Twenty-four people were injured. Many of the injuries were from flying glass. One motorist was very lucky when the tremendous force of the wind drove a large wooden timber through the door and front seat of his van, escaping with only a hip injury. A nursing home lost its roof and buildings at the local fairgrounds were destroyed. A gas station was destroyed. A truck smashed into a supermarket causing a large hole in the building. Many roads were blocked for more than 24 hours by numerous fallen trees. Debris was carried more than 45 miles to the northeast to Belchertown in eastern Hampshire County."

Photo credit: CBS6 Albany

The tornado was 300 yards wide and carried on for about 11.5 miles. Total damage was estimated at 25 million dollars.

JULY 24, 2008: The New Hampshire Tornado

This tornado, an EF2, tore a path through 11 communities and killed one person in southern New Hampshire. The tornado touched down in Deerfield and moved northeast until it dissipated in Freedom.

The tornado was on the ground for an hour and 20 minutes. This tornado holds the New England record for longest track in the region. The tornado was on the ground for 50 miles, beating the 1953 Worcester tornado by 2-4 miles. A total of 21 homes were destroyed with many, many more badly damaged.

2011 OUTBREAK: 6 tornadoes, including the EF3 Springfield tornado

June 1, 2011 has become one of the most notorious weather days in recent memory for New England. This day would see six tornadoes touch down across Massachusetts and Maine. By far, the most notable tornado was an EF3 that tore straight through downtown Springfield, Massachusetts. The National Weather Service's summary of the event goes as follows:

"The tornado first touched down in the munger hill section of

westfield with damage mainly limited to trees...many uprooted and

snapped. the roof of Munger Hill Elementary School was also

damaged. The tornado rapidly intensified as it moved into west

springfield. The tornado caused extensive damage to industrial

buildings and homes. Several buildings had their roofs removed by

the tornado...a few structures collapsed...and several multi-

story buildings lost their upper stories.

The tornado then crossed the Connecticut River at the Memorial

Avenue Bridge and into the city of Springfield. Here the tornado

produced extensive damage to the south side of the downtown area

with many homes destroyed. In addition commercial brick buildings

sustained major damage. Roofs were removed from many of these

large commercial structures. The tornado also produced severe

structural damage to town homes and apartments near springfield

college. The tornado continued moving east into the island pond

section of Springfield...where Cathedral High School sustained

significant damage...and many homes in this part the city were

completely destroyed."

2011 Springfield tornado. Photo credit: Matt Putzel

The tornado then continued directly through the middle of the

town of monson. In Monson widespread damage occurred to commercial

and residential buildings...with many homes completely destroyed.

The roof of Monson High School was destroyed.

The tornado moved across the brimfield state forest where it

reached its maximum width of approximately one-half mile. Additional

significant damage occurred both to structures and forested areas

for many miles before the tornado reached the Southbridge Airport.

Here numerous aircraft were lifted off the ground and into the

woods east of the airport."

This tornado would kill three people, injure 200 more and cause over 200 million dollars in damages. Up to 500 buildings in Springfield alone were destroyed. The tornado tracked for a total of 39 miles. It was on the ground for over an hour, a feat that few New England tornadoes have been able to accomplish.

The other five tornadoes were significantly weaker. Four EF1s and an EF0 ripped through central and western Massachusetts and western Maine. This was the second most tornadoes reported in New England in a single day, behind only July 21, 2010 when 8 EF1 tornadoes touched down across Connecticut and Maine.

JULY 28, 2014: The Revere Tornado

On the morning of July 28, 2014, an EF2 tornado touched down and tore a path through Revere, Massachusetts. The tornado was only on the ground for four minutes and traveled for less than a half a mile. The tornado damaged 60 buildings and severly damaged about a dozen homes.

A severe thunderstorm warning was issued at 8:50 am and allowed to expire at 9:30 am as no reports or severe damage came in during the warning. The tornado touched down just two minutes after the warning expired, at 9:32 am. A flash flood warning was issued at 9:33 am. The tornado dissipated at 9:36 am.

JULY 23, 2019: The Cape Cod Tornadoes

Tornadoes on Cape Cod are extremely rare. Prior to this day in 2019, there had only been three documented tornadoes on the Cape ever. In a span of 20 minutes on July 23, 2019, that number would double.

Photo credit: Terry-Ann Simpson

The tornadoes, all EF1s, were very short lived. All three caused tree and power line damage. The strongest of the three was on the ground for 10 minutes and had a discontinuous path. This tornado is the one that peeled the roof off of a motel in a now viral video.

One of the other tornadoes lasted for 5 minutes, while the third lasted for just one minute. It took months for all of the damage to be repaired.

2023: Rhode Island's EF-2 tornado

On August 18th, 2023, five tornadoes touched down across New England. One of them would become the strongest tornado to touch down in New England in a decade. The tornado would also become Rhode Island's strongest in nearly 40 years.

The tornado touched down at 8:40am near Byron Randall Road in Scituate. This touchdown point is where the tornado was strongest and inflicted the most damage. Winds were estimated to be up to 115mph.

This touchdown area is rural, and much of the damage was done to trees. Hundreds of large trees were snapped at the base or completely uprooted. Structural damage to homes did occur in this area as well. Significant roof damage occurred, along with a chimney being blown down, windows being blown and a door was dislodged from its frame.

After causing heavy damage in Scituate, the tornado moved into Johnston. At this point, the storm crossed over interstate 295, where drivers caught the tornado on camera and a car was lifted several feet into the air before being dropped back down. The driver of this car was transported to the hospital with minor injuries. This was the only injury sustained during this tornado.

The same thunderstorm that produced this tornado would go on to produce a second tornado in North Attleborough and Mansfield, Massachusetts ten minutes after the Rhode Island tornado completely dissipated. This tornado was rated an EF-1 with maximum winds estimated at 90mph. This tornado also had a rather long track, lasting for 7.6 miles. This track, like the Rhode Island track, was discontinuous. August 18, 2023 became only the fifth day since 2009 to produce at least 5 tornadoes in New England.



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