Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1965

Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1965

Infobox tornado outbreak|name=Palm Sunday (1965) Tornado Outbreak II
date=April 11-12, 1965
image location=palmsundaytwintornadoes.jpg

duration=~11 hours
total damages (USD)=$1.6 billion (2007 dollars) []
total fatalities=271
areas affected=Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio
The second Palm Sunday tornado outbreak occurred on April 11, 1965 and involved 78 tornadoes (38 significant, 19 violent, 21 killers) hitting the Midwest. It was the second biggest outbreak on record. In the Midwest, 271 people were killed and 1,500 injured (1,200 in Indiana). It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Indiana history with 137 people killed.ref|1 The outbreak also made that week the second most active week in history with 51 significant and 21 violent tornadoes. fix
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text=citation needed
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date=July 2008
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Meteorological synopsis

The tornadoes occurred in a 450-mile swath west-to-east from Clinton County, Iowa, to Cuyahoga County, Ohio, and a 200-mile swath north-to-south from Kent County, Michigan, to Montgomery County, Indiana. The outbreak lasted 11 hours and is among the most intense outbreaks — in terms of number, strength, width, path, and length of tornadoes — ever recorded.

This is the third deadliest day for tornadoes on record, trailing the Super Outbreak of April 3, 1974, which killed 315 and the outbreak that included the Tri-State Tornado which killed 747. It occurred on Palm Sunday, an important day in the Christian religion, and many people were attending services at church, one possible reason why some warnings were not received. There had been a short winter that year, and as the day progressed, the temperature rose to 83° F in some areas of Midwestern United States.

Confirmed tornadoes

Outbreak description

At around 12:55 P.M.ref|2, the first tornado of the day occurred in Clinton County, Iowa. It was an F4 on the Fujita scale of severity. It was spawned from a thunderstorm cell first detected near Tipton in Cedar County, Iowa, around 12:45 P.M. by radio news reporter Martin Jensen at the WMT Stations in Cedar Rapids, some 50 miles northwest of Tipton. The station was equipped with a Collins Radio aviation radar that was mounted on the roof of the station building and used to support severe weather reports on local and regional newscasts. After detecting the strong and very tall thunderstorm, the reporter called National Weather Service offices in Waterloo (which had no radar) and Des Moines to alert them to the storm. His call was to become the first solid evidence obtained by the Weather Service on the growing severe storms that spawned dozens of tornadoes over the next 12 hours.


A tornado occurred at Crystal Lake, Illinois, where it destroyed several subdivisions and a golf course. It grazed a junior high school then destroyed several homes in a community called Colby's Home Estates. 145 homes were damaged -- 45 beyond repair as well as a shopping centre. Five people were killed. The tornado then overtopped a hill and destroyed the small community of Island Lake, killing one more person before ascending back into the clouds at 3:42 P.M. This was one of a handful of F4 tornadoes that occurred during this outbreak.


Later in the day, the tornadoes became more numerous. Several tornadoes touched down in Indiana, and many of them were lethal. Some individual supercells spawned as many as 5 violent tornadoes as they raced from west to east. The first touched down at around 5:30 P.M. in Koontz Lake, Indiana. This massive F4 killed 10 people and injured 180. This tornado then moved northeast toward La Paz and Lakeville where it destroyed a brand new high school that was still under construction. The tornado then moved into Wyatt and destroyed twenty homes.

Another violent tornado formed near the St. Joseph County-Elkhart County border and moved east-northeast, first striking Wakarusa, Indiana, where it killed a child. Then it moved toward the towns of Nappanee, Goshen, and Dunlap. "Elkhart Truth" reporter Paul Huffman captured a spectacular series of photographs as this double tornado moved past Goshen, IN; one of these photos is pictured above right. The Palm Sunday Tornado Memorial Park now exists near this location, at the corner of County Road 45 and Cole Street in Dunlap.

One-half hour later, a second tornado devastated the Sunnyside Housing addition and the unoccupied Sunnyside Mennonite Church. The death toll from the Sunnyside tornado was over 20 people. Most of the 36 people killed in the tornado had no warning because the high winds had knocked out the telephone and power grids. For the first time in the U.S. Weather Bureau's history, all nine counties in the northern Indiana office's jurisdiction were under a tornado warning.Fact|date=April 2008 This is called a "blanket tornado warning." Both tornadoes were officially rated as F4 according to the National Weather Service records. However, the second Dunlap tornado was previously rated F5.]

Ninety miles to the south, at just past 7:30PM, another massive tornado slammed into the town of Russiaville, Indiana. Most of the town was destroyed, leaving several dead. The storm churned into nearby Alto, obliterating it completely, before striking the southern edge of the larger city of Kokomo. As the tornado continued east, it killed ten more people in Greentown, Indiana, most of whom had been riding in automobiles that were hurled across the landscape. More destruction ensued in Marion, Indiana, before the storm crossed into Ohio.

Michigan and Ohio

With the telephone lines down, emergency services in Elkhart County, Indiana, could not warn the people in Michigan that the tornadoes were headed their way. In Michigan, tornadoes hit as far north as Allendale, in Ottawa County, Michigan, just west of Grand Rapids. Out of the southernmost counties of Michigan, all but three (Berrien, Cass, and St. Joseph counties) were hit. Two F4 tornadoes struck Hillsdale County and destroyed about 200 cottages along Baw Beese Lake. It was said many people were saved as they were in church instead of out by the lake. It also devastated the Manitou Beach-Devils Lake area in Lenawee County in a span of a little more than 30 minutes, causing numerous fatalities.

One of the tornadoes then hit in Milan, Michigan, near Ann Arbor. It destroyed the building of Wolverine Plastics (the top employer in Milan), completely removing the roof.

Tornadoes continued from Indiana into Ohio, and additional fatalities occurred across the border. A double tornado was sighted near Toledo, Ohio and that system devastated northern parts of the city with F4 damage. Other violent tornadoes occurred near the Indiana/Ohio border.

At around 11 P.M., another violent tornado touched earth in Lorain County, Ohio and slammed into Pittsfield, Ohio, killing seven and destroying most structures. The same tornado caused severe damage to homes in Grafton. By the time the storm got to Cleveland, Ohio, the storm "appeared to have split into two paths about a 1/2 mile apart." Several witnesses also saw two funnels merging into one similar to the Dunlap tornado. ] Large trees laying 50 feet apart were felled lying in different directions. The storm also displayed F4 damage not near Strongsville where homes literally vanished. This tornado killed 18 people and was also previously rated as an F5 before being lowered to an F4 by NWS officials.

The last tornado of the day occurred at 12:30 A.M. on April 12. It moved along a 30-mile path south of Columbus, Ohio, causing F2 damage.


The U.S. Weather Bureau later investigated why so many people died in this event. Radar stations were few and far between in 1965, so tornadoes were identified by the characteristic shape of "hook echoes", but the danger in this storm was identified in plenty of time. The real answer was simple: the warning system failed. The Bureau disseminated the warnings quickly, but the public never received them. Additionally, the public did not know the difference between a Forecast and an Alert. Thus the current Tornado watch and Tornado warning program was implemented because of the terrible death toll from the Palm Sunday outbreak. Pivotal to those clarifications was a meeting in the WMT Stations studio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Officials of the severe storms forecast center in Kansas City met with WMT meteorologist Conrad Johnson and News Director Grant Price. Their discussion led to establishment of the official "watch" and "warning" procedures in use since 1965.

Technology has grown tremendously since 1965; warnings can now be spread via cable and satellite television, PCs and the Internet, solid-state electronics, cell phones, and NOAA Weatheradio.

Suction vortices

Dr. Ted Fujita discovered suction vortices during the Palm Sunday tornado outbreak. It had been believed the reason why tornadoes could hit one house and leave another across the street completely unscathed was because the whole tornado would "jump" from one house to another. However, the actual reason is because most of the destruction is caused by suction vortices: small, intense mini-tornadoes within the main tornado.


In the Midwest, 271 people were killed and 1,500 injured (1,200 in Indiana). It was the deadliest tornado outbreak in Indiana history with 137 people killed.ref|1

ee also

*List of North American tornadoes and tornado outbreaks
*Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1920
*Palm Sunday tornado outbreak of 1994


* Thomas P. Grazulis (1993). "Significant Tornadoes 1680-1991, A Chronology and Analysis of Events". The Tornado Project of Environmental Films. ISBN 1-879362-00-7 (hardcover)
* King, Marshall (April 10, 2005). "One for the books". "The Elkhart Truth", [ The Elkhart Truth Online Edition]
* [ National Climatic Data Centre] Viewed 17/04/2006.

External links

* [ 1965 Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak] (Keith C. Heidorn)
* [ The Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak Story] (NWS Detroit, MI)
* [ The Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak, Manitou Beach] (Dan Cherry)
* [ April 11, 1965, Palm Sunday Tornado Outbreak] (NWS Indianapolis, IN)
* [ The Palm Sunday Story April 11, 1965 (NWS Northern Indiana)]
* [ Palm Sunday tornado outbreak overlaid on Google Map]

Further reading

*"Palm Sunday tornadoes of April 11, 1965", by Tetsuya T. Fujita and Dorothy L. Bradbury, with C. F. Van Thullenar. Chicago Satellite & Mesometeorology Research Project, University of Chicago, 1970. There is no ISBN available; Library of Congress Control Number: 70017916.
*"The Night of the Wicked Winds: the 1965 Palm Sunday tornadoes in Ohio", by Roger Pickenpaugh. Baltimore, MD: Gateway Press, 2003. ISBN 0-9709059-3-9 (paperback).
*"Winds of fury, circles of grace: life after the Palm Sunday tornadoes", by Dale Clem. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1997. ISBN 0-687-01795-5 (alk. paper)
*"The Mighty Whirlwind", by David Wagler. Aylmer, Ontario: Pathway Publishing Corp., 1966. There is no ISBN available; Library of Congress Control Number: 67112646.
*"The Palm Sunday Tornado", by Timothy E. Bontrager, 2005. A novel by an author whose grandparents died in the tornado. For details see
*Fujita, Tetsuya T., et al (1970). "PALM SUNDAY TORNADOES OF APRIL 11, 1965" [] . "Monthly Weather Review", 98 (1), pp. 29–69.
*"Night of the Wind: The Palm Sunday Tornado of April 11, 1965", by Dan Cherry. Adrian, Michigan: Lenawee County Historical Society, 2002. A collection of interviews and eyewitness accounts from the Devils Lake area, located in northwest Lenawee County. There is no ISBN available; Library of Congress Control Number not available.

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