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For those who like Tornado history, 1953 Worcester Twister

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  • For those who like Tornado history, 1953 Worcester Twister

    I think this link's available for free
    Even if it's not, you might want to pay the 50 cent daily access fee if you like Tornado history!

    It's kind of amazing that only 90 people died -- It was an F-5 strength storm that stayed on the ground for 46 miles, and cut through north side of the City. And in New England no less, were tornadoes seldom do much other than knock a bunch of tree limbs down and flip the odd thing over.

    Storm for the ages

    Tornado left trail of terror and awe

    Bill Fortier

    Edwin Kessler remembers Tuesday, June 9, 1953, very well.

    He was getting his doctorate in meteorology from MIT and he knew there were some bad thunderstorms west of Boston. So, he and some of his classmates turned on the radar and took a look at the thunderstorm that spawned the Worcester tornado.

    "The top of it went right off our radar screen," he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in Norman, Okla.

    That was the first clue that weather mayhem was unfolding to the west. The second clue came a while later in the form of ground-up leaves that fell on Mr. Kessler as he rode his bicycle from Cambridge into Boston.

    "I knew something really big had to be happening somewhere," said Mr. Kessler, who would became the National Severe Storms Laboratory's first director in 1964.

    That something big was the Worcester tornado, and prominent people in the world of meteorology agree that the tornado has a well-earned reputation as one of the most significant storms in the nation's history.

    "That was one helluva a tornado," Mr. Kessler said. "That would have been a big tornado in Oklahoma.
    It was very powerful and happened in a part of the country that doesn't get many tornadoes. And the ones that do occur are pretty weak most of the time. All that makes it really unusual."

    Former Worcester resident Thomas P. Grazulis is widely regarded as the country's leading tornado historian, and he noted another factor that makes the storm so significant - it was one of the first in which radar picked up a hook echo, now known as the signature of a tornado.

    The storm also led to the issuance of New England's first tornado warning, although it came much too late to save lives. At about 5:45 p.m., more than a half hour after the storm bowled through Worcester, a weather observer at the Blue Hills Observatory in Milton called the Weather Bureau in Boston after seeing debris falling from the sky.

    According to a booklet on the tornado recently done by former Fitchburg resident William F. Chittick, the late afternoon forecast had called for severe thunderstorms with a chance of isolated tornadoes in the Boston area until 8 p.m.

    Retired Channel 4 meteorologist Don Kent said the thunderstorm from which the tornado dropped was so big - research said it was about 60,000 feet high - people on Cape Cod saw lightning flashing from it until almost midnight.

    University of Oklahoma meteorology professor and famed tornado chaser Howie B. Bluestein saw the cloud go by his house on the North Shore of Boston when he was 5 years old. He remembers his mother calling him into the house as reports of a severe storm started becoming public.

    "She said tornadoes snatch up little boys and take them away," he said after spending several days chasing tornadoes in the Midwest early this May. He said some of those well-chronicled storms may have approached the Worcester tornado's strength. None, however, was stronger.

    Mr. Bluestein frequently talks about the Worcester tornado when giving lectures or traveling around the country.

    "The Worcester tornado is very big deal in the world of meteorology," he said.

    Mr. Grazulis called the Worcester tornado a "once in a century" storm for New England.

    "The Worcester tornado really is a benchmark tornado," he said, explaining that 1953 was the first year tornado warnings were issued and that the tornado has been an endless topic of discussion and research for the past 50 years.

    The storm was formed when a rapidly moving cold front collided with warm air at a time of the day when the temperature is warmest.

    Jack E. Hales, a lead forecaster for the National Weather Service's Severe Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said the upper atmosphere that day underwent an extremely steep drop in temperature as the cold front crossed Western Massachusetts and approached the Quabbin Reservoir.

    In addition, Mr. Bluestein said the winds were blowing in different directions at different levels of the atmosphere and that wind shear caused the atmospheric spin needed to form a tornado.

    "They are conditions you see on the Great Plains," Mr. Hales said. "Not in New England."

    Channel 5 meteorologist Harvey Leonard said an average New England thunderstorm reaches a height of 30,000 feet.

    "A severe storm might reach 40,000 feet, 50,000 feet, maybe, but 60,000 feet, that I've never seen. But then again I've never seen an F-5 tornado, and I don't care to, either."

    Meteorologists in the Taunton National Weather Service office have been talking with their colleagues in Norman to see if the storm can officially be upgraded from an F-4 to an F-5 on the Fujita Scale.

    Eleanor Vallier-Talbot, a meteorologist in the Taunton office, said one of the characteristics of an F-5 tornado is that it can rip bark from trees.

    "We have pictures of that," she said.

    Mr. Grazulis says he considers it an F-5, and Mr. Hales says he's inclined to agree.

    The Fujita scale didn't exist until the early 1970s, and Mr. Grazulis said pictures are used to determine the rating of storms before that. He said pictures clearly show what he called F-5 damage in Great Brook Valley, the Uncatena-Calumet avenues section off Clark Street and Assumption College at its former location on West Boylston Street in Worcester.

    "People who think it was an F-4 aren't looking at the right pictures," he said.

    Mr. Chittick said he's been fascinated by a tornado he says was one of the strongest ever in a part of the country in which they are rare.

    "The Worcester tornado," he said with a tone of awe in his voice. "The strength of the wind, the 46-mile continuous path on the ground, everything about it. It defied all the odds, it broke all the rules."
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