We might not be in what they call tornado alley, but I would say we are in a "tornado street." That's because there is a secondary bulls-eye for tornadoes centered over Indiana. We're the 5th most likely state for a tornado, and second most likely for a violent tornado of EF2 or greater.
Tornadoes wreak havoc when they touch down. They hit quickly, sometimes without much warning, doing their damage in a matter of seconds. Michiana has been part of two major tornado outbreaks - the Super Outbreak on April 3, 1974, and the 1965 Palm Sunday Outbreak, that dealt us the biggest blow.
Probably the most famous photograph ever taken of a tornado in the world is by Elkhart Truth photographer Paul Huffman. The picture was taken along US-33 between Elkhart and Goshen.
When I was a kid, I read this book called "The Mighty Whirlwind" and was enthralled by it. Paul’s words were, "The funnel had divided, and now there were two distinct tornadoes, one following the other. The first one had already crossed the highway. The second was directly over the Midland Trailer Court. After mauling the trailer court, the second twister headed toward the first and the two soon merged."
We created a computer animation of what we now believe Paul saw. They weren't dividing and merging; one was moving in front of the other. It's 1 big tornado in the record book, but there were two distinct vortices rotating around each other.
The destruction was incredible. A deputy sheriff, one of the first on the scene said, "The trailer court was flat. Dead silence prevailed except for a few people crying and moaning. Soon we saw people crawling from under the wreckage, calling for help. They were coming from all directions."
191 Indiana and Michigan residents died because of the storm.
Eleven years later on April 3, 1974 the Super Outbreak hit. The name implies it all - 148 tornadoes from southern Michigan to southern Mississippi. One huge F4 tornado ripped up a 121 mile path across our southern and eastern counties. It was the longest lasting tornado of the 148. 19 people were killed from Monticello to Rochester to Syracuse to LaGrange County. 49 Indiana residents died and 768 were injured.
Shortly after 9/11, on October 24th, 10 tornadoes twisted to earth over Michiana. There was widespread damage. The strongest tornado, an F3, started near Crumstown, hit the northwest part of South Bend, then moved through Niles into central Cass County. 2 Michiana residents died.
Then came October 18th, 2007. It was only one tornado, but it was an EF-3 with winds of 165 mph. Nappanee was in its path, and the tornado was a half mile wide at times. Over 100 buildings were destroyed or suffered significant damage, but incredibly, nobody died.
We don't know when the next tornado is going to slam into Michiana, but I believe that the weather pattern over the U.S. may very well become similar to the 1950's, 60's and 70's. Could we see similar major tornado outbreaks like Palm Sunday? Hopefully not, but only time will tell.
For safety tips and more information about tornados, click the following links: