The tornadoes that struck Birmingham and Tuscaloosa in Alabama, St. Louis and Joplin in Missouri, and now Springfield, Massachusetts should put to rest the myth that twisters don’t hit urban areas. And yesterday’s tornadoes in Springfield and the surrounding region also serve as a powerful reminder that deadly tornadoes can occur almost anywhere - geographically - in the United States. How typical or unusual were the tornadoes in central and western Massachusetts that killed at least four people?
I reviewed the Tornado History Project database and found that from August 21, 1951 to July 23, 2008 - there were 152 recorded tornadoes in Massachusetts or, on average, almost three per year. The majority of the tornadoes to strike the state were of the weaker variety, that is, F0 and F1s on the Fujita Scale. However, around 30 F2s, several F3 and three F4 tornadoes occurred during the period of record.
The National Climatic Data Center indicates about one strong to violent (F2-F5) tornado hits Massachusetts each year.
Surprisingly, Massachusetts (and Connecticut) average(s) just as many strong to violent tornadoes per 10,000 square miles as Texas, Missouri and Tennessee.
The two most notable F4 tornadoes to hit Massachusetts - prior to yesterday - occurred on June 9, 1953 and May 29, 1995. The 1953 storm, which touched down around Worcester, killed 94 people. The 1995 storm, which carved a path through Berkshire county, killed three people.
Within a 25 mile radius of Springfield, almost 50 tornadoes have touched down since 1950 according to the database at TornadoPaths.org. This includes the F4 twister that cut a devastating 11 mile path through Windsor, Windsor Locks, and Suffield Connecticut on October 3, 1979.
It is not yet known how intense the tornado that hit Springfield yesterday was - nor the several others that touched down in the region. A team from the National Weather Service will assess the damage today and assign an Enhanced Fujita scale rating.
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