1965-04-11: Palm Sunday Outbreak

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Mar 3, 2012
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Dr. Fujita examined the "double funnel" in his paper on the Palm Sunday outbreak if you'd like to read it.

http://docs.lib.noaa.gov/rescue/mwr/098/mwr-098-01-0029.pdf

The short answer is that it's a multivortex tornado, wherein the main vortex of the tornado essentially breaks into two or more subvortices. It's quite common, especially for large, strong tornadoes, but it's not very often that you see such a striking example. Actually several of the tornadoes during the Palm Sunday outbreak were said to have displayed "double funnels" at least briefly, including the tornado that struck the Sunnyside subdivision just to the north in Dunlap, and the same thing has been reported with a number of other historical tornadoes. The Tushka, OK tornado on April 14, 2011 immediately comes to mind as well.

I have larger versions of four of the six Huffman photos on my blog.

http://stormstalker.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/1965-palm-sunday/

Bob Hartig has written about the "twins" as well (including here) and he's very familiar with the event and with Paul Huffman and his photos.

And I believe you mean LBJ visited the damage; it'd be quite miraculous indeed if FDR had come to see for himself. :p
 
Mar 3, 2012
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As I'm sure most of you know, today is the 50th anniversary of the devastating Palm Sunday outbreak. NWS Northern Indiana (@NWSIWX) is live-tweeting much of the event as it would have unfolded, which is very interesting and engaging. I've also updated my blog with a bunch of new photos and information from this event if anyone is interested.

http://stormstalker.wordpress.com/2013/01/05/1965-palm-sunday/

There are many things that were exceptional about this outbreak, but I think the thing that stands out most to be is the extraordinarily intense kinematics. I'm not sure I've ever seen such an exceptionally intense 500mb jet (large 120-140kt core with an absolute maximum of 159kts(!) observed at DDC) with such an event, especially not associated with the sort of broad, moderately unstable warm sector and excellent veering with height that was in place on 4/11/65.
 
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Jul 2, 2004
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Thanks for posting, Shawn. Your observation about the H5 jet core is spot-on; it was absolutely insane. But the 159 knots is new to me. Wow! But even apart from that, the shear in that system was staggering, and consequently, the storms that day were rocketships. Moreoever, reports of hydra-like "tendrils" or "fingers" (as described in David Wagler's book, The Mighty Whirlwind), characteristic of violent tornadoes, were numerous with that event.

On the personal side, I posted the following on Facebook and thought I would share here as well:

Today is the 50-year anniversary of the April 11, 1965, Palm Sunday tornadoes. On that dark, violent evening five decades ago, 47 tornadoes raked across the Great Lakes region from Iowa to Ohio, taking 272 lives (including an Iowa man who died of his injuries a month later, after the official stats were finalized).

Hardest hit were the states of Indiana, Michigan, and Ohio, with the highest death toll occurring in Dunlap, Indiana, just south of Elkhart. There, a massive multi-vortex tornado swept through the Sunnyside and Kingston Heights neighborhoods, killing 28. My friend Debbie Watters now owns and oversees a memorial park on the property where her childhood home was swept away by the tornado, which claimed her brother Stevie. The park, and the commemorative events Debbie has held there over the years, have provided a point of contact and healing for those who survived the northern Indiana tornadoes. Today's half-century commemoration was somber, moving, faith-filled, bittersweet, and powerful, and I was honored that Debbie asked me to be a part of it by playing "Amazing Grace" on the saxophone.

Much missed was my other "Tornado Lady," Pat Bowman (McIntosh), whose story from that day and my own story cross in a remarkable way. Wish you'd been there, Pat! I was delighted to see Betty Huffman, wife of Paul Huffman, the Elkhart Truth photographer who took the Pulitzer Award-winning photograph of twin funnels straddling US 33 just two miles down the road, where the Midway Trailer Court got demolished. That iconic photo is one of the most famous tornado photographs ever taken, and it remains the most chilling I've ever seen. Paul passed away several months ago. He was one of the nicest guys--sharp as a tack, funny, peppery, with plenty of stories to tell, and Betty is a warm, sweet lady. She told me that "Amazing Grace" was Paul's favorite hymn.

Wish I had pictures to share, but when I pulled out my camera, I discovered that the battery needs charging. Ditto my video camera. What a special day, though--sobering, heartwarming, one I will remember and treasure.

To the above FB post I'll add this: After the event was over, I headed toward the area where Paul Huffman took his famous photo of the twin funnels razing the Midway Trailer Court. I always visit that spot when I'm down there. CR 17 now bridges US 33 where the south part of the court used to be, and it serves as an excellent indicator of the tornado's path. The northern quadrant of the court, where a few trailers escaped unscathed, had until recently retained all the haunting, telltale earmarks of an old, long vanished community, with rows of soldierly old trees lining lanes of crumbling asphalt. But that last remnant of the site disappeared under the bulldozers a few months ago, and a new business now occupies the grounds. Little is left of the landscape that existed half a century ago. But there is one landmark I know of that remains. And as I drive by, I picture a gutsy young newspaper photographer standing on the roadside, his leg hooked around the fender of his car to brace himself against the inflow winds, snapping the photograph of his life as death blows through half a mile up the highway and his wife screams at him from inside the car.
 
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Mar 3, 2012
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That sounds wonderful and bittersweet, Bob. I wish I'd had an opportunity to meet Paul. I'd have loved to pick his brain a bit, and everyone I know who has had the opportunity to do so describes him just as you do. It's still amazing to me just how lucky that shot was; to be exactly at that spot, at exactly the right time, and taking photos at exactly those moments. Truly a once in a lifetime thing.

Debbie was, I believe, recently featured in WSBT's short program on the event that they posted online tonight. The small memorial also makes an appearance.

http://www.wsbt.com/news/local/speical-report-palm-sunday-tornadoes-50-years-later/32318184

Anyhow, I'm happy to see that there are people working to keep the memory of this event (and others) alive. These events are important, and so are the personal stories, photos, videos and other memories that serve to keep the events alive. It's a shame that more effort doesn't go into preserving these things.
 
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Jul 2, 2004
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Feb 22, 2015
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An actual photo of that tornado. Wow! That's an incredible find. Now if only a home movie from that day would emerge from someone's attic.
I'm sure there are more photos like this of that day and others. Dare I guess that there might be a picture of the Tri-State Tornado lost in the murk somewhere?
 
As a follow up, the National Weather Service in Northern Indiana (IWX) resurrected the long-since defunct historical PSO page, updating it with additional stories, meteorological background, and photos, many re-scans from the original page. That link, for those whom have not viewed it, can be accessed via: http://www.weather.gov/iwx/1965_palmsunday_50

Blake


Today is the 47th anniversary of the 1965 Palm Sunday Tornadoes. I was nine years old when the outbreak occurred. The northern Indiana storms struck just twenty miles south and southeast of where my family lived in Niles, Michigan. First Koontz Lake, Wyatt, and Lapaz got hit, and then the storms traveled northeast on a lethal path toward Dunlap, Midway, and the Shore Community south of Shipshewana. From there, the supercells crossed into Michigan east of Niles, where many more lives were lost, notably around Coldwater Lake and Devil's Lake.

Another burst of storms farther north took lives where I now live in the Grand Rapids area, primarily due to a long-track F4 tornado that tore across Alpine Avenue northwest of town. Several other weaker tornadoes struck the area as well, including one that hit just a couple miles south of where I live, and yet another that struck across the river from where my family moved into Cascade a few years later. There appears to be no record for that tornado, but I've encountered lots of anecdotal evidence.

Blake Naftel maintained a great website on the Palm Sunday Tornadoes, but it's long gone, and that's too bad, because among its photos was a color photo of a tornado near Rossville, Indiana--where a third band of deadly storms moved through--that I've never seen elsewhere. My own blog contains a couple of photos you're unlikely to encounter elsewhere of the Lapaz tornado. You can check them out here.

Later, after sundown, more tornadoes struck in Ohio from Toledo southward, claiming still more lives.

My friend Debbie Forsythe-Watters maintains a tornado memorial park at the site of her childhood home, which got swept away when the deadliest tornado of the outbreak hit the Sunnyside neighborhood in Dunlap. I've talked with a number of survivors in recent year, including Paul Huffman, the retired newspaper photographer who took the famous photograph of twin funnels hitting the Midway Trailer Park along US 33 between Dunlap and Goshen. I've walked those trailer park grounds, or what's left of them, and visited some of the other sites that got hit. For some reason, that event has always had a grip on me.

I've read the book by Dan Cherry on the Manitou Beach tornadoes. Dan did an outstanding job of unearthing the events and the aftermath of that day in one hard-hit community that was visited by not just one, but two violent tornadoes.
 
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Oct 10, 2004
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This is probably tops on my wish-list after the 1974 Super Outbreak for a pre-Doppler era event that I would have liked to watch unfold on modern WSR-88D (and I'm sure the forecasters working it at the time would have loved a tool like that, too!). Guessing some of the imagery from the stations covering southern MI/northern IN and NW OH would probably have looked similar to what KBMX and KGWX looked like on the evening of April 27, 2011 - just a ridiculously concentrated cluster of classic tornadic supercells.
 
Back in the day, the NWS drew pictures on maps from the WSR-57 units as there was no way to record the events in the non-digital age except taking a picture of the screen. It would be interesting to make modern radar simulations based on such records, damage reports, etc. (Hand-drawn image from the 1974 Super Outbreak below - NWS image).

radar14.jpg
 
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