I conclude this week with the April 3rd 1956 tornado outbreak.
On the days of the 2nd and 3rd an outbreak produced 47 tornadoes in the U.S. including an F5 tornado that devastated Hudsonville and Standale on April 3. It was one of three tornadoes to move across southwest Lower Michigan on that day. A fourth tornado struck north of the Manistee area. The Hudsonville-Standale tornado killed 18 and injured 340. In addition to confirmed tornadoes, there were several unconfirmed but possible tornadoes.
April 3, 1956, was a warm and humid day across most of the Midwestern U.S., the Great Lakes and the Ohio Valley. Temperatures in the areas affected by the worst of the outbreak were well into the 70s°, approaching 80 ° with high dew points. A low pressure system with a strong cold front located across the western Great Lakes was moving to the northeast. The front was already responsible for deadly tornadoes in Oklahoma and Kansas on April 2 in which seven people were killed by the storms.
Early on the afternoon of April 3, thunderstorms were already starting to form across Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa, with the first deadly tornado reported in Wisconsin. A powerful F4 tornado struck the town of Berlin, Wisconsin, in which seven people were killed and a large portion of Berlin destroyed. Prior to the arrival of the storms in the Midwest, schools had closed earlier than usual due to the threat of severe weather.
Below is a synopsis of the storm outbreak. The columns are divided into city, county, time and path length.
|F5||Saugatuck to Hudsonville to S of Lakeview||Allegan, Ottawa, Kent, Montcalm||2240||58.8 miles||17 deaths Officially listed as a single tornado, but may have been a tornado family of two or more tornadoes, one of which was an F4 and the other an F5. The first (F4) tornado may have lifted near Holland, passing aloft over Zeeland before touching down as a second (F5) tornado just east of town. The second tornado then continued northeast before lifting northeast of Trufant.|
|F4||NW of Onekama to E of Suttons Bay||Manistee, Benzie, Grand Traverse, Leelanau||2335||50.3 miles||1 death – This possible tornado family destroyed 13 homes and at least 26 barns before ending over Grand Traverse Bay. Two homes in Benzie County were leveled to the ground, one of which was a multi-story building in which one person died. Other homes were reported destroyed in Lake Ann, southeast of Solon, and in Cedar Run. One barn was also destroyed at Bear Lake. Two people (officially only one) may have died. The tornado affected very rural areas for most of its life, and was rated F3 by Grazulis.|
|F3||S of Bangor to S of Lowell||Van Buren, Allegan, Barry, Kent||0015||60.6 miles||This “minimal” F3 tornado began on the south side of Bangor and gradually intensified. Near the Van Buren–Allegan County line, it leveled a farmhouse and swept away several small cottages The tornado also hit the edge of Bloomingdale. In Allegan, the tornado mostly unroofed a factory and a road commission building, and at least 12 farms reported severe losses to livestock. Afterward, the tornado weakened, turned to the right, and lifted before reforming into a new tornado, as no structural damage occurred and damage to vegetation was lighter than elsewhere along the path. The second tornado then re-intensified before badly damaging many farms in Barry and Kent Counties before dissipating near Lowell. In all, the tornado (or tornado family) destroyed 29 homes, one of which was totally leveled in F4 fashion but could not be rated as such due to lack of information about construction quality.|
By late afternoon, the cold front crossed over the western Great Lakes including Lake Michigan. Just before 5:00 PM CST, a tornado touched down on the beach near Saugatuck, Michigan, and proceeded 9 mi (14 km), producing F4 damage and injuring seven people while destroying barns, outbuildings and garages. The tornado destroyed multiple homes, some of which were swept away. The historic lighthouse on the shore near Saugatuck was also leveled by the winds.
Some reports indicate that the tornado dissipated near Holland and formed into a new, more powerful tornado southwest of the Grand Rapids metropolitan area at around 6:30 PM. Officially, however, a single continuous track is listed. Beginning in Vriesland in Ottawa County, the F5 tornado moved northeast for 52 miles over areas just north and west of Grand Rapids, causing extensive devastation to Hudsonville, Standale and suburban areas of Grand Rapids.
Homes in the Hudsonville area were cleanly swept away from their foundations, with only small pieces of debris recovered in some locations. At least one home was so obliterated that all the floor tiles had been completely scoured from the foundation. Vehicles nearby were tossed hundreds of yards and mangled beyond recognition. Extensive wind-rowing of debris was observed, and hundreds of trees were snapped and debarked as well.
In all, the tornado destroyed numerous homes and businesses, especially in Standale. Some homes in this area were swept away as well. The tornado continued northeast, destroying a mobile home park before dissipating. Officially, 17 (possibly 18) people were killed and hundreds injured by the storm. This was the last F5 (confirmed and/or possible) in the U.S. state of Michigan and occurred three years after the Flint Tornado that killed 116.
More on this storm outbreak with weather maps and photos can be found in an article written by Ernest J. Ostuno for the E Journal of Severe Storms.
The feature image is the Saugatuck to Holland tornado seen shortly before the damage path ended, as it was moving into a residential section of Holland, MI. Photo credit: Don Brink.
Today won’t be the most pleasant of spring days with temps in the 30s and gusty NW winds – after a few snow showers this morning the skies should clear bringing in a sunny weekend with temps in the upper 40s to low 50s. The CPC has released its April outlook which is guessing a 33% chance of below normal temps.
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