32nd Conference on Broadcast Meteorology/31st Conference on Radar Meteorology/Fifth Conference on Coastal Atmospheric and Oceanic Prediction and Processes

Sunday, 10 August 2003: 2:00 PM
The 50th Anniversary of One of America's Top Ten Tornadoes
Paul H. Gross, WDIV-TV, Detroit, MI
When people think about tornadoes, their thoughts naturally gravitate toward the Central Plains...the heart of America's "Tornado Alley." However, some of this country's most notorious twisters have actually occurred in the Midwest. The Beecher Tornado of 1953 is the ninth deadliest tornado in American history, and is still the last single tornado to kill more than one hundred people.

The tornado touched down in Beecher, Michigan (a suburb of Flint…about sixty miles north of Detroit) at 8:30 P.M. EST, 8 June 1953, and moved eastward at thirty-five mph…eventually carving an 833 yard wide, twenty-seven mile long path. 113 of the 116 fatalities happened in a single four-mile stretch, and the twister injured 844 others. A total of $19 million in damage ($125 million in 2003 dollars) occurred, with 447 homes either destroyed or suffering significant damage.

The tornado was eventually rated an F-5 on the Fujita Scale, with estimated wind speeds in the 261-318 mph range. It should be noted that, although one percent of all tornadoes nationally are rated violent (F4/F5) and twenty-five percent are rated strong (F2/F3), five percent of all Michigan tornadoes are strong, and thirty-one percent are violent. So, although Michigan gets far fewer tornadoes overall than the more notorious states in “Tornado Alley,” tornadoes in the Great Lake State (as well as the rest of the Midwest) have a better chance of being strong or violent.”

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