More tornado memories (but no book as of yet) 2015.04.01


Long-time readers may remember that I wrote about the 40th anniversary of the 1965 Palm Sunday tornados a short ten years ago. I suppose I could just run the same column again, this time to mark 50 years since a total of 47 tornadoes killed 271 people in six states, including several in Lenawee County.

 But I have enough memories of the subject that I didn’t use last time plus  additional new-found information to write a whole new column, so I did. Go ahead and read it. After all, it’s a long time until 2025 and I might not feel like writing a 60th anniversary column when the occasion comes around. Then again, perhaps I will.

Or maybe I’ll save you the wait and write a book instead. That subject came up after my column ten years ago. I went into the Fayette library a few days after it ran and was asked it I had written a book about the tornado. A library patron had stopped in and asked if they had a copy of my tornado book. That was probably the only time someone mistook me for a real, live, published book author.

I’m sure they had me confused with a reporter/historian who works at another area newspaper who really had written such a book. His publication actually contained a photo of our 1962 and 1964 Plymouths, both of which were found after the first Manitou Beach tornado upside down in our back yard.

At least our cars were made somewhat famous by the book and I ended up directing several people to where they could obtain a copy. In fact, the same person recently published a second book on the tragedy. Although I haven’t seen it yet, I’m told the new book includes another photo of the tornado aftermath at my childhood home. I guess I’ll have to track down a copy.

But enough about my imaginary book writing career. Instead, I’ll share some “facts” about tornadoes, one of which anyone who lived through the 1965 tornadoes locally knows is false.

A recent special on The Weather Channel mentioned that after a tornado has struck a location, it will be 2,000 years or more before another will return. Who came up with that piece of research? 

Just last week, TWC was showing severe tornado damage from towns in Oklahoma that had also been hit previously in this decade. Unfortunately, the same thing happens in Kansas, Missouri and other tornado-prone areas on a fairly regular basis. Where did this “2,000 years” fable come from, anyway?

Back in 1965, the first of the Palm Sunday tornadoes hit our home at around 7:45 p.m., interrupting our weekly viewing of “My Favorite Martian.” A scant 30 minutes later, another tornado arrived,   almost 2,000 years early according to The  Weather Channel. Does that mean I now don’t have to worry for another 4,000 years?

I also learned on Wikipedia that at least one of the two tornadoes which destroyed much of the Devils Lake area on their way to demolishing our garage, breezeway, cars and more are now believed to have been of “F4” strength. No other tornado that day scored higher. According to the Fujita Scale, the damage around Manitou Beach was consistent with winds of 207 to 260 mph. Seventeen of the 47 Palm Sunday tornados are now scored as F4 with the other 30 as F3 or lower.

An article in National Geographic in 2013 stated that a photo lost during a 2011 tornado in the northwest Alabama town of Phil Campbell eventually landed in the eastern Tennessee town of Lenoir City, a distance of 219 miles as the crow flies (or tornado blows). It’s the longest known trip ever made by a piece of tornado debris. 

That anecdote makes me wonder about the original home of the ball-peen hammer I discovered near the woods behind our back yard a day or two after the tornadoes. It was an interesting, though somewhat sad find, but came in handy in straightening out the big dent in my Radio Flyer wagon. Although our family cars were destroyed, my wagon landed on its wheels in the back yard, far beyond the landing spot of the Plymouths, ready for action despite the dent. I still wonder what hit it during the tornadoes to cause the damage. 

That’s all I have room for this time. Since I still have some unused items to share, there’s probably a good chance that I will write another tornado column in 2025 after all. Unless, of course, I’m too busy working on that book.